Docu-Drama

The man behind the man behind the Moog synthesizer

 Moog is not coming to the Valley. Even though it's one of the hippest new documentaries out right now. Even though this is producer Ryan Page's hometown, not to mention the country's fifth largest metropolis. And even though Page says he could pack a theater with just his friends and family.

An art-house film about Dr. Robert Moog (pronounced like "vogue"), inventor of the legendary Moog synthesizer, Moog is going to play in 70 cities in the United States. "And Phoenix, as of right now, is not one of them, but we're working on that," Page says. "Art films don't play that well here -- that's what I'm told."

Turns out, it's a distribution issue. The film is not available on the standard 35 millimeter format that local theaters require. According to Harkins Theatres' director of film operations, Noel Kendall, "That in itself is reason alone" that Moog isn't showing locally, even at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe.

C'mon, Moog: Ryan Page's latesy production is making waves everywhere but his hometown.
Jeff Newton
C'mon, Moog: Ryan Page's latesy production is making waves everywhere but his hometown.

Page says, "Most art cinemas in the country can screen off of Digibeta or even DVD. There is one 35 millimeter print being made of our film, but that's only going to be in Japan."

The situation might change. But for now, people will just have to wait for the DVD release, due out in the spring, or else take a road trip. In the many cities where it's showing, Moog's luring crowds of not only film buffs but music-scene hipsters and techie engineer types. For that reason, Page expects the film to go over well at its Japanese première in February. "They're already making Bob dolls in Tokyo -- he's huge there," Page says.

Page's new office in downtown Phoenix is quiet and empty on a recent day except for a laptop on the large desk and a few framed movie posters on the tangerine-colored walls. But the other offices in First Studio (the former KPHO building where Wallace & Ladmo used to be filmed) are full of activity, with workers talking on the phone or discussing projects. In all, there are 13 media companies here, and Page says it's nice to be surrounded by so much energy. Wearing jeans and a black shirt, the blond-haired, green-eyed film producer looks relaxed and rested, even though he's been traveling for the last few weeks to promote Moog, which he created with director Hans Fjellestad. Thirty-year-old Page's most recent trip, a few days earlier, was to Sheffield, England, for Moog's screening at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival, and then to California for its Los Angeles première.

"In Sheffield, Roger O'Donnell of The Cure came down and did a Q&A with me, and we stayed up all night long, of course. And then I got on the plane at 7 a.m. or something, didn't sleep at all, and flew directly to L.A., where I got in at 5, and the show started at 7:30. So I was dead tired, but I stayed up until the wee hours after that. We had fun -- it was kind of cool to see Moog on two different continents in the span of 18 hours."

Granted, with that kind of globetrotting schedule, there's hardly time for jet lag. And sleep can wait when there are film festivals to attend. So far, Moog has appeared in eight festivals since it debuted in July in the Czech Republic, and it's sold out every screening. "We even won best documentary in Barcelona," Page says.

Instead of detailing the rise of electronic music and the development of the Moog, the documentary focuses on Bob Moog as a person -- a humble, bespectacled, white-haired gent who embodies the notion of a scientist, down to the pocketful of ballpoint pens in his button-down shirt. Throughout the film, Moog waxes philosophical about things like circuitry and organic gardening, and drops in for studio visits with electronic-music pioneers like Gershon Kingsley and Walter Sear as well as younger artists like Money Mark and DJ Spooky. By the end, you realize that although electronic music has been pegged as distant, impersonal or even alien -- because of unique sounds generated by the Moog -- the deeply spiritual man behind the machine sees his creation as nothing less than a device to channel human emotions.

It's a little unorthodox, but Page points out that he and Fjellestad didn't set out to document the history of the synthesizer. "We knew this was always about Bob. We approached it as we were going to do a study of an American maverick inventor," he says.

The project started two years ago, when Page was living in San Diego and working on another film with Fjellestad for their company ZU33, which specializes in music-related documentaries. "Our last film was called Frontier Life, which was on the electronic-music scene in Tijuana and illegal drag racing," Page says. "And we met Bob through that film, because of all the Nortec guys -- these artists and musicians in Tijuana who blend techno with norteño. Bob gave a speech in San Diego, and we thought, 'No one's ever made a film about that guy.' It took about a year to convince him to allow us to shoot him."

Over the course of a year, the documentary was filmed on location at Moog's home in Asheville, North Carolina, plus New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London. Also, for the purpose of shooting the film, Page coordinated two Moog Fest concerts: one in San Francisco with performances by newer artists using Moog synthesizers, including Meat Beat Manifesto, Money Mark with Mixmaster Mike, and the Album Leaf; and one in New York featuring masters of the Moog like Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Bernie Worrell.

"Everybody loves Bob," Page says, so it was pretty easy to get musicians to participate in the film. "But the person that we wanted most in the whole film, we didn't get, and that's Wendy Carlos, who did Clockwork Orange and Switched-On Bach. We couldn't even use archive footage. But she popularized Moog instruments," he says of the elusive artist whose electronic renditions of classical music were all the rage in the late '60s. "No doubt about it."

That said, Page is still pleased with the end results. Music has always been one of his loves, and he especially got his "fix" working on the soundtracks to Frontier Life and Moog. "What's strange is that I started working on the [Moog] soundtrack simultaneously with starting the film, which is unusual. I selected who I wanted exactly, and they all said yes except for two people. I wanted to get Herbie Hancock on there, and Stevie Wonder I was never able to reach. He never said no, but it's hard to get to Stevie Wonder."

The soundtrack really holds its own, with 17 original songs from artists including Stereolab, Charlie Clouser, and Tortoise. From beginning to end, the album represents the wild palette of sounds that the Moog synthesizer produces, from quirky pop and spacy funk to dark techno and skittery experimental stuff. Page says one of the tracks he's most excited about is Jean-Jacques Perrey and Luke Vibert's "You Moog Me," a midtempo groove driven by the instrument's deep, sexy tones and punctuated by its high-pitched squelches. "Jean-Jacques Perrey is one of the original Moog masters," Page says. "It's cool to see a guy from that generation work with Luke Vibert, who's now."

With such a buzzworthy film under his belt, Page is riding the inevitable wave of publicity and logging lots of frequent-flier miles. At the same time, he and his wife, Katy, along with six-month-old son Jack, are settling back into life in Phoenix after years out of state, spending time with friends and family since their move from San Diego a month and a half ago.

Page left town when he graduated from Horizon High School in north Scottsdale in 1993. Not long before that, he and a friend sent actor Crispin Glover a screenplay that they co-wrote, called A Single Bound, about a group of people obsessed with a thrift-store VCR. To their surprise, Glover read the script and called them up. "He said he really liked the film and he wanted to do it so long as he could make everyone in the film have Down syndrome," Page says, "and I said that sounds fine, and I moved to L.A. pretty much then and there."

Page moved into Glover's mansion and ended up producing What Is It?, a prequel to A Single Bound that Glover wrote. It was supposed to be part of a Down syndrome trilogy, but after four years of shooting, it still wasn't finished. Page says that he parted ways with Glover at that point and moved to San Diego, where his career in documentary film started moving forward.

Now primarily based in Phoenix, Page is continuing to work with Fjellestad, who's still in San Diego, but he also just started Sun Royal Film + Music with local musician Pete DeVriese, whom he's known since high school.

"He's done music in everything I've ever done, except What Is It?. Even my short films in high school," Page says of DeVriese. With Page as producer and sometime director, and DeVriese handling music and occasionally co-producing, the two will specialize in documentaries, commercials, and even music videos. Their current project, with local director Randy Murray, is an in-depth documentary on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that's bound to attract national attention as well as local interest.

No word yet on whether it'll make it to Phoenix theaters.

E-mail michele.laudig@newtimes.com, or call 602- 229-8497.

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