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For anyone who was a fan of the early '90s "grunge" music, Hype! is almost
required viewing. Loaded with interviews, live footage, and early
demos/recordings, it is an accurate chronology of the early scene.
However, what makes Hype! so good is that it is basically two stories in one. A simple narrative about the Seattle scene is used to illustrate how the American pop-culture machine will jump on the bandwagon. An independent musical scene with a range of different influences gains a little exposure and reputation. Soon the corporate media steps in, and it all becomes wrapped up in the nice little package of "grunge" and is marketed nationwide as a music/clothing/life-style choice. The people in the original scene either play the game and take advantage of it, or they are caught up and exploited, or they are simply left behind. In the end, what was once underground becomes assimilated into the mainstream and homogenized. The cycle is left to repeat itself somewhere else as soon as the next "musical revolution" is discovered.
Hype! could have just as easily been about a different city or musical genre, and the story would have been the same. These same themes have been brought up in numerous other films, but they work a little better in Hype! because it's not simply a satire, but shows it first-hand through real people.
Once again, I think Hype! is a well-made documentary. Even if you're not a fan of "grunge", I still recommend it for its treatment of pop-culture as a whole.
This film documents what was is referred to as the "Grunge", or "Seattle
scene". It goes into depth exploring the tools the media, and corporations
used to exploit and market this scene.
It goes back to the roots of grunge siting such bands as Skin Yard, Green River, and Mudhoney. One great thing about this film is the soundtrack. It's the best soundtrack since "Singles". It features The Gits, Mudhoney, Green River, The Fastbacks, etc.
Watch this film. Watch live performances, interviews with SoundGarden, Pearl Jam, etc.
When you think about what happened up in the Pacific Northwest during
the late '80s and early '90s, you kind of realize that this "scene" was
always destined to fail. There's no way a secluded, out-of-the-way
region like Washington state could have produced a long-lasting cash
cow. It did in a backhanded kind of way since people are still leeching
off the scene to create a much more dumbed-down version (Seether,
anyone?). That's not to say everything that came from Seattle was
intelligent. No one would accuse Seaweed or Gas Huffer for being the
most brilliant bands ever. But there was an authenticity that came from
those bands and many others that were created in Seattle that
scene-hoppers like Candlebox couldn't replicate.
And the movie Hype perfectly illustrates this point. It shows the juxtaposition created by commercial success and authenticity. Occasionally the two can coexist, but more often then not they're mutually exclusive. So to see bands like the Screaming Trees on the cusp of fame, only to shy away from it (even if unintentionally), you kind of get the idea what a lot of the Seattle bands were about. Most never expected to amount to anything more than the guy who serves you your coffee at Starbucks. The goal for a lot of people was just to make music they personally enjoyed, and then play a few shows. If they got lucky, they expected maybe to tour up-and-down the West Coast. And then that's it But MTV came calling and then that was it. Authenticity is replaced by photogenic front men.
Don't get me wrong. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were all greats band, but they got a lot of their attention because they were lucky enough to be fronted by sensitive, good-looking guys that girls would go crazy for. They had great music, but their looks coupled with the down-and-dirty attire that they wore made them into the guys-next-door. The movie Singles helped to solidify that image, and then grunge became a household word. Meanwhile Tad were stuck out in the cold, stormy weather of Seattle, playing music that was equally compelling.
If anything, don't watch Hype for the big bands that came out of the scene. Watch it for the obscure bands you've never heard of. Bands like the Fastbacks, the Gits, Some Velvet Sidewalk, and Love Battery. Is Eddie Vedder a good listen? Well, yeah. But does he make much sense? Nope.
Another big highlight of this movie are the producers, the writers of fanzines, the current (and former) employees of Sub-Pop, generally everyone that lived in Seattle but wasn't in a band. They all have great stories that really go back to illustrating the authenticity of the music, and eventually also pointing out its corruption.
This along with the more recent Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols-documentary Dig should be required viewing for any self-respecting music fan. They both brilliantly show the highs and lows of success in the music business, and everything those two polarities entail.
If you were above a certain age when the "Seattle sound" or "grunge rock"
became the rage, HYPE! is a good place to catch up. I can't think of a
single feature film that has concert performances from so many bands. Most
songs are shown as excerpts rather than in full-length, but the clips are
lengthy, and the musicians are shown in prolonged shots without the
irritating frenetic cuts favored by post-MTV film editors. The concert
footage has more the flavor of the 60's than the 90's. Although grunge
was the signature of Generation X, both older and younger rock music fans
will likely enjoy it.
Most of the interview material will be best appreciated by fans of the genre. Other viewers will find that, away from the stage and their instruments, grunge rockers are no wittier or more entertaining than the musicians who preceded them.
It's my hope that future musicians who are trying to make real music as opposed to Spice Girls pap and that ilk will look at this documentary and try not to make the same mistakes, and allow the hype to overwhelm what could have been a real musical revolution. The high points (or low points, depending on your point of view) are the Muzak version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and when the ex-Sub Pop employee made up "grunge" terms that The New York Times printed as gospel. I wish this had acknowledged earlier Seattle musicians like Hendrix and Heart, and tried to answer whether the Nirvana-Pearl Jam feud was real or just part of the hype, but otherwise, this is an important cautionary tale, and it's also fun and informative. Oh yeah, and the music is great too.
I remember the first time I heard Nirvana. I had laid down for a nap
with the radio on after school one day. When I woke up it was night,
but what threw me out of bed, what got me banging my head was "Smells
Like Teen Spirit." I never heard anything like it. The noise possessed
me. Right then and there I filed away my Poison and Def Leppard tapes;
there were new rock stars to worship.
HYPE charts what happened in Seattle to bring forth this defining moment of a generation as well as what happened after. It's a sharp, funny documentary with scads of concert footage of bands both famous (Soundgarden) and not so (Coffin Break). Interspersed are wry observations from the locals who got so fed up with the endless, um, hype, that the only way to stay sane was to make fun of it all.
The movie is put together well, but I do have some complaints. I wish the filmmakers had shown the first live performance of "Teen Spirit" in its entirety. The part they do show is electrifying; maybe it's the combination of the grainy, shaky footage and Nirvana itself, but at that moment it was obvious that Kurt Cobain would be a superstar. This concert was ground zero for the biggest youthquake in my lifetime, so I wish it could have seen and heard the performance from beginning to end.
My second complaint is easier to forgive. For all the talk about Nirvana, not a word is mentioned about Hole. Given Courtney Love's litigious nature when it comes to her and Kurt's music, I presume she did what she had to do to keep her band out of it. It's not the director's fault, but it does harm the movie since Love is arguably the biggest star the era produced. (HYPE hit theatres about six weeks before THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT; I wonder if that was mere coincidence.)
Finally, since there's a clip of the Gits, it would have been right to at least mention lead singer Mia Zapata's 1993 murder. I didn't hear about this until years later, when "Unsolved Mysteries" did a piece on it. I wanted to know more about it, like how her death affected the community and the music. Were the Gits a local favorite? Was Zapata popular? A bitch? Movie doesn't say.
I still have all my grunge CDs. Not just the big acts but many of the wannabees, never-weres and knockoffs too: Sponge, Mad Season, Jawbox, Dink, Seven Mary Three. I don't care how derivative it sounds; this era of music was my college years, the early '90s, the best time of my life. Forgive me for wallowing in it occasionally (I type as the moody Mother Love Bone song on the SINGLES soundtrack resonates around me).
What happened to grunge? Did it die with Kurt, or with Mia, or when Weird Al gave the world his spin, or when Pearl Jam agreed to play at Ticketmaster arenas? It sure was long gone by the time Layne Staley died and the Smashing Pumpkins broke up. HYPE's running time is under ninety minutes, which seems appropriate since grunge was over quickly too. It petered out before its time, and before we knew it Hootie and the Blowfish was the next big thing. And look what pop music is now.
Oh, and I did eventually buy the Best Of collections from Poison and Def Leppard. Don't we all secretly still like the music we listened to in high school?
An incredible reminder of the intense, passionate, and powerful grunge movement from the late 80s through the mid 90s. A wonderful 1996 surprise for any rock lover, but especially those loyal to the genre itself. The honest and direct interviews, commentaries, and live performances provide inspiration to all open to hear what the fuss (or should I say fuzz?) was all about.
This movie establishes two things: 1. Seattle has a great music scene.
2. So does every other large city. 2 and a half. Eventually the media
finds you and ruins you.
The events that went down in Seattle are nothing new and nothing old. Left to develop itself any local music scene will mature into something great. Whether or not the press/industry discovers this and shows up to suck the life out of it is up to fate. Hype! is a snapshot of money finding talent. The results range from crappy albums to suicide.
What this film does accomplish is to procure a reaction of artists caught in the overwhelming process of being found. Suddenly you are being offered loads of cash to do the same thing you've been doing for years, or even decades, for next to nothing. This changes your output - you stop playing to the crowd and start playing to the money. The interviewees in Hype! recognize this and speak to it. This is where the movie succeeds. The musicians see what is happening for what it is and call it out. What they fail to do is reject it, but at least they leave a document for the next generation.
At the end of the film there is a warning: Your town is next. Will the next town take the advice?
This documentary is, very simply, great. It is basically about the
music scene in Seattle during and before the "grunge" scene exploded.
I really liked how most of the people that were interviewed were not the really famous bands that everyone knows. Of course there is a part of that in the film, but it is not presented in a way that is really shoving it in your face like how all the mainstream media tends to do. It had more to do with the relatively unknown or underground music that erupted from Seattle during that time.
I also liked how it was put together in a way that really gave you a solid history and background of the music that was present before "grunge", and how that music influenced the next generation of music, which then influenced the NEXT generation of music.
As a whole, it is a very solid documentary that gives the perspective of the people who were around during the "grunge" movement, and the artists' opinions and responses to it. And, of course, there is a lot of fantastic music (and some not so much). ^_^ Enjoy.
If you're a fan of grunge, or suffering from an inexplicable bout of
90s nostalgia, then this film will no doubt make fascinating viewing.
If, however, you want a film that goes beyond the story that everybody
already knows, and delivers something more than a load of concert
footage and an unnecessary (because really, who the hell doesn't
already know this?) portrait of the cynical and exploitative nature of
corporate America when faced with a new, marketable sub-culture, then
it might not be worth bothering. Yes, the people from the bands all
seem lovely, and there are a few neat moments here and there, but in
the end this is really just an excuse for eighty minutes of
second-tier, never-was grunge bands rocking. And do you really want to
subject yourself to that? Hopefully, someone will eventually make a
film about the history of punk rock that manages to be both
entertaining and informative, and not just another tedious
anti-corporate screed (apparently The Decline of Western Civilisation
is such a film. I haven't seen it, but I intend to check it out) padded
with footage of everyone's favourite bands from their first year of
It's not bad. It's just not that great, either.
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