Robyn Hitchcock On Display In Abandoned 'Storefront'

Hitchcock teams with director Jonathan Demme on new film that features psychedelic pop-rocker at his weirdest.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Robyn Hitchcock stood on the stage of the historic

Castro Theatre facing an audience littered with film buffs on a movie-going

binge and fans eager to see their favorite performer.

He was introducing the film "Storefront Hitchcock," which was about to be

screened as part of the 41st annual San Francisco International Film Festival.

And then came this warning:

"I hope your flesh is good," said Hitchcock, dressed in a black jacket, a black

and white polka-dot dress shirt and bright purple pants. "I hope your minds are

popping with the right stuff."

And while the announcement may have seemed strangely unclear, even

alarming to some, the premise of "Storefront Hitchcock" is simple enough.

Under the direction of Jonathan Demme, Hitchcock stands playing guitar in a

storefront window for 86 minutes.

That's it; nothing more, nothing less. Film-goers who paid their money looking

for the kind of cannibalistic action that marked director Demme's most famous

film, "Silence of the Lambs," probably dozed off early on.

But for fans of Hitchcock, 45, an English singer/songwriter and former frontman

of post-punk act the Soft Boys, "Storefront Hitchcock" provides a unique look

into Hitchcock's patented approach to live music, taking viewers through several

monologues between the 15 songs and offering a glimpse into his songwriting

process.

Filmed in an abandoned furniture store on 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth

avenues in Manhattan and composed of four performances recorded over

two days, the film's early moments are marked with the inadvertent hilarity that

ensues as sidewalk passersby realize that a live performance is taking place on

the other side of the glass.

Later in the film, Demme, whose 1984 concert film "Stop Making Sense"

profiled new-wave pioneers Talking Heads, alternates the background behind

Hitchcock from a solid black curtain to a multi-colored panel, with various

objects like a large hanging tomato and a disco ball thrown into view at

intervals. The result produces an unbalanced feel to Hitchcock's performance

that reflects the quirky, uneven songs for which he's known.

The most delightful moments of the film come when Hitchcock takes time out

from playing his acoustic and electric guitars on songs such as "1974," "Devil's

Radio" and

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Hitchcock,_Robyn/Glass_Hotel.ram">"Glass Hotel" (RealAudio excerpt) to explain his collection of humorous,

solemn and inane songs to the unseen audience. Prior to "Let's Go

Thundering," he praises the human rib cage for keeping our guts in and

preventing what he describes as "spleens a-go-go."

He prefaces a song that describes a time in the future without human beings

with a dedication to computers: "We apologize. We're not responsible. We

created you. We're extinct."

Perhaps the most intriguing song introduction was his explanation for a tune

about the English Isle Of Wight, which he explained is sinking at the rate of 10

feet a year, a fact he said means that the ghosts of those who lived before are

stretching further and further out to sea.

Accompanied at times by violinist Deni Bonet and later by guitarist Tim Keegan,

Hitchcock shows himself to be an attentive performer, throwing sidelong

glances during songs at his fellow performers, at one point offering Bonet a

drink of water from his glass.

At the movie's end, one feels not so much like they've seen Hitchcock in concert

or watched a movie about him but that they've been allowed to sit in on a

practice session with all his music, biting wit and eccentric personality on

prominent display.

Hitchcock, Bonet and producer Peter Saraf came together onstage after the film

to field questions from the audience. Hitchcock dominated the forum, frequently

choosing to be flippant or glib with his initial reply to the sometimes inane

questions, before giving a more sincere response.

Among those inquiries shot down by Hitchcock included "Where is the worst

audience?," which he countered with "You can find a bad crowd anywhere if

you look for them. Are you looking for a bad audience?" Hitchcock also

mocked the idea of a Soft Boys reunion. "After a certain age, I don't think you

legally have to have a band."

And how did it feel to be the focus of a film? Hitchcock cut the cleverness

momentarily and said, "I feel myself flinching at some points when I see myself

onscreen."