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
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
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
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