Sublime screenings: BBC offers a night of underground music and film, but bring your own chair

Nov 27, 2007 at 7:38 pm

The Louisville Film Society and Wild and Woolly Video are teaming up for a night of rare music and films from both the Sublime Frequencies collective and from the Alan Lomax archives. Tuesday’s event — B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Chair) — continues in the Film Society’s tradition of combining public screenings of unique films with the laid-back environment of the bar, this time at the BBC Tap Room on the corner of Main and Clay streets.

Sublime Frequencies promotes ignored cultural and musical genius from nearly all corners of the non-Western world. Since its initial release in 2003, the label has released more than 39 DVDs, CDs and LPs that run the gamut from pop and folk songs of Sumatra, “Commie Funk and Agit Pop” of North Korea, “Forbidden Gang Funk” of Rio de Janeiro, Thai “Country Groove,” Hendrix damaged-electric-trance guitar from Niger, Iraqis with Casios, field recordings of Burmese insects, and Palestinian radio plays — to name just a few.

The mantra on the outfit’s Web site paints organizers as a “collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media or corporate foundations.”

At the center of Sublime Frequencies are Lebanese-American brothers Richard and Alan Bishop (of the infamous genre-bending cult heroes Sun City Girls) and Libyan-born polymath Hisham Mayet, who prefers filming on the fly.

“You can record things surreptitiously and get an authentic moment that would happen without you,” Mayet said in a recent Blastitude magazine interview.

This subjective approach to filming has rendered comparisons between Sublime Frequencies and German film director Werner Herzog. In a recent appearance at the New York Public Library, Herzog said: “I’m after something that is more like an ecstasy of truth, something where we step beyond ourselves, something that happens in religion sometimes, like medieval mystics.” Both Mayet and Herzog are more interested in the poetic and ecstatic truths than the “accountant’s truth” of objective facts.

Masters of folk cinema, Sublime Frequencies’ films are made by people outside the halls of academia and embody the DIY aesthetic of punk rock. They are self-taught, passionate individuals who create art out of a deep commitment to the craft and a joy of the experience, and are living proof that filmmakers do not have to have years of film school experience or grandiose budgets to, in fact, make films. The end result is a more visceral medium, in contrast to today’s films of obese budgets and surface-level gloss.

Mayet will attend Tuesday’s Louisville premiere of both his “Palace of the Winds” and “Musical Brotherhoods from the Trans-Saharan Highway,” which have yet to be released on DVD. The former guides the viewer from the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott to the Western Sahara, through the public and private world of the Saharawis. Crystalline blue skies, endless stretches of desert horizon and intimate after-hour gatherings frame colorful dance, tea ceremonies and, yes, hypnotizing psychedelic electric guitar.

The latter film dives deep into the Moroccan nightlife of the street musician. Amplified strings such as oud, cumbus and banjo are enveloped by swarms of percussion and voice amid an atmosphere somewhere between a carnival, an unworldly flea market and a séance.

Opening the evening will be rare film clips of the late Big Chief Jake Millon and his White Eagles Mardi Gras Indian gang in New Orleans, shot in 1982 by Alan Lomax and crew for Lomax’s “American Patchwork” PBS series. Performing at their local 7th Ward hangout (a spot called Darrell’s Lounge), they re-enact and rehearse their carnival antics, with singing, drumming and staged confrontations between spyboys.

“I thought it’d be interesting to show these clips because they bear a surprising resemblance to the ecstatic ritual performances of the Moroccan Sufi brotherhoods and Gnawa groups,” said B.Y.O.C. organizer Nathan Salsburg, who is the production manager of the Alan Lomax Collection CD series on Rounder Records as well as the Lomax Archive in New York. “And also because the New Orleans social aid and pleasure clubs, like the Sufis and Gnawa, put so much emphasis on the ‘tribe’ and its traditions and rites.”

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Sublime Frequencies collective
Tuesday, Dec. 4
BBC Tap Room
636 E. Main St.
$5 ($3 for Louisville Film Society members);
8:30 p.m.