Better Than Something: Jay Reatard: A Chat with Directors Alex Hammond & Ian Markiewicz

Directors Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz got a lot more than they bargained for when Matador Records and Jay Reatard -- the nom de punk of Memphis songwriter Jay Lindsey-- approached them about filming a short electronic press kit for his album 2009 album Watch Me Fall. Originally intended as a short, sort-of-commercial promoting the garage rocker, it became something more as Lindsey revealed more than the duo expected.

"He liked the idea of people coming from outside to document what he was doing," says Hammond. "He wanted to get to the truth. He said, 'Show people who don't like my music.' He didn't want it to be a fluff piece. I think we were both very surprised with what we got. We thought it was just going to be this little portrait."

"You don't feel compelled to go beyond a standard five-seven minute EPK," says Markiewicz. "This was something more. For whatever reason, Jay poured out so much."

Things became even more complicated when Linsdey died of complications "cocaine toxicity" in early 2010. The film morphed into an exploration of Lindsey's career, roots, and his relationships. The film screens Saturday, March 10, at FilmBar, and features live performances by The Wongs and Destruction Unit, both featuring Lindsey's friend and former bandmate Ryan "Elvis Wong" Rousseau.

The film features archival footage dating back to Lindsey's days in the late '90s.

"There's a lot of footage out there of Jay even from the early days," Markiewicz says. "The thing is there's so much more than what we ended up fitting into the film. We used a lot, but there's so much more out there. There's mountains of footage when you get down to it."

Lindsey's prolific persona often left little time for fidelity, and true to his spirit, the film doesn't present his work in a polished light, at least not all the time. "When we were shooting with him in Memphis, he said 'A lot of people think of me as a lo-fi guy,' but he stressed that he didn't want to be seen as only that."

"We made sure you say the evolution -- from grungy VHS to these polished music videos shot on HD," Hammond says. "You see that whole scope in his career. We picked things we thought helped tell the story."

Frustrated by his portrayal in the press as a boneheaded troublemaker --a role he often played --Lindsey wanted the film to explain who he was beyond the antics and blood-smeared album covers.

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"He let us into this world where it's like you're hanging out with Jay," Hammond says. "As it goes on, it moves into darker place. The stories he tells become darker - but I don't know. There is a positive aspect too. It's a celebration of a guy's life."

"He had this certain charisma where you just enjoy hanging with him, but there is a sadness that lingers over everything," Markiewicz says. "I think that has a lot to do with the fact that people were shocked that he died. It wasn't like a 'Oh, this was bound to happen.' There's a different sort of heaviness associated with deaths like that, but with Jay, he seemed in control. It's like, 'What the hell happened?' It's less about the physical cause, and more about the psychology of what he was going through. And that can be difficult to get through."

"But there's a lot of humor in it too," Hammond says. "You laugh a lot at certain moments. He was was a great storyteller - and really charming."

"He was so much more articulate and had so much more to say than his labels would have suggested," Markiewicz says.

Destruction Unit and The Wongs are scheduled to perform Saturday, March 10, at FilmBar, and Watch Me Fall is screening at various times throughout the week. See FilmBar's calendar for details.

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