‘Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr.’ Review: A Volatile Band

This documentary opens with generic footage that will immediately bring nostalgia to its target audience of alt-rock hounds: titles in a prefab-like style in garish purple against a bright green backdrop. The effects are reminiscent of DIY videos from the late 1980s. The title track is iconic for Dinosaur Jr., the subject of the film. The band’s pre-grunge specialty were infectious tunes sung in a nasal drawl, almost overwhelmed by fuzzy guitars screeching and screeching.

Directed by Philipp Reichenheim, the brother-in-law of band member J Mascis, the film delivers exactly what the second half of its title promises: the band’s story. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph, three punk-rock-loving teenagers from Western Massachusetts, weave their way through various post-punk combos, until they come across a distinct and ultimately influential sound. In interviews, luminaries of the day, such as Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Bob Mold (Hüsker Dü, Sugar), contemplate the band’s talents and the quirky personalities of its members.

In keeping with their era and its allure, these guys were very anti-rock star. Describing the style of a similarly inclined musician, Donald Fagen, in the 1970s, critic Robert Christgau said that Fagen looked “just dressed to go out for the paper”. For Barlow in particular, going out for the newspaper seems ambitious at Napoleon’s level.

However, the trio’s volatile history is part of the tradition of alternative rock. Stranded in an Idaho motel while on tour, their camaraderie crumbles; the band loses Barlow, then Murph, and years later, in 2005, the guys are all mending fences for a productive, still-going reunion.

There’s nothing here about the latest soundtrack work Mascis is undertaking with director Allison Anders, or his Sweet Apple side project; Barlow’s much-loved band, Sebadoh, is barely mentioned. The movie is nothing if not relentlessly focused on Dinosaur Jr. himself. The group is remarkable. But this treatment seems meager.

Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr.
Unclassified. Duration: 1h22. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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