At long last, a documentary that combines three of Judge Patrick Bromley's favorite subjects: Rock music and Gina Gershon.
Follow the journey from film star to rock star!
The list of actors moonlighting as frustrated musicians is not a short one. Keanu Reeves performs bass duties in his band, Dogstar. Kevin Bacon rocks the acoustic guitar and sings alongside his brother in a musical outfit named, appropriately enough, the Bacon Brothers. Gary Sinise just recently played my hometown of Chicago with his Lieutenant Dan Band. Several months prior, Dennis Quaid and the Sharks blew through. Billy Bob Thornton, Milla Jovovich, Johnny Depp, Jason Schwartzmann, and Bruce Willis all have recordings out. Heck, even Kevin Costner sang a duet with Amy Grant over the closing credits of his post-apocalyptic vanity-project-disaster, The Postman.
The oversaturation of this particular musical niche—coupled with the less-than-stellar products in most instances—naturally gives way to much eye-rolling and weary suspicion on the part of the movie-seeing and music-hearing public. Such a widespread low tolerance for this kind of artistic "branching out" is just one of the many factors working against actress Gina Gershon (Bound, 3-Way), the latest movie star to give a rock 'n' roll career a whirl, in her six-part IFC documentary series Rocked with Gina Gershon. The show follows Gershon's six-city tour across the United States in support of the Lions Gate chick-band drama, Prey for Rock and Roll—which was, incidentally, the first movie I reviewed for DVD Verdict and the reason I jumped at the opportunity to review this set.
It was evident in Prey for Rock and Roll (I even commented on it in my review) and it's more than evident here: Gershon is the real deal. Though far from being a great singer—a cross between Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett—and saddled with a roster of songs ranging from tunelessly mediocre to blandly competent, Gershon makes a hell of a frontwoman. She commands the audience (not to mention her backing band, Girls Against Boys) with an edginess—a raucous energy and playful sexuality—lacking in nearly every mainstream pop and rock female vocalist currently in rotation on MTV. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd swear she's been doing this her whole life—that's how strong she is on stage. Say what you will about her acting chops, but Gina Gershon makes a hell of a rock star.
The real irony is that, despite the show's misleading premise, Gershon is not trying to launch herself as a musician. Her foray into the music world isn't the result of some long-lingering rock n' roll fantasy or misguided ego, but rather a request made by the studio to promote Prey for Rock and Roll, on which Gershon serves as a producer. When we see her being interviewed by local radio stations, or talking to newspapers, or even bantering in between songs at a show, Gershon's never trying to put herself over as a serious musician—there's no approval-seeking or insistent legitimacy on the agenda. Time and again, her emphasis is on one thing: the movie. Like what you hear? Go see the movie. Like me as an actress? Go see the movie. Don't want me to kick your ass? Go see the movie.
It's the promotion of the movie that slowly becomes the focus of the series. City after city, Gershon pounds the pavement by day and rocks out by night, all in the interest of the little-indie-that-could—until the realization sets in that it can't. Watching Gershon tirelessly promote the film even as it quickly fades from theaters (by the time the band makes it to the last city on the tour, the film has still not played there, nor will it ever) would almost be heartbreaking if she weren't so damn funny about it—equal parts angry, exhausted, sarcastic, and profane. The dripping-with-self-deprecating-sarcasm narration Gershon delivers throughout the series can grow a bit tiresome, but otherwise the star comes out of the series on top—aside from a teensy bit of celebrity-induced whining, she's about the closest thing to a regular person I'd imagine a movie star's ever going to get. She comes off as hardworking, honest, sincere, and the kind of person I'd want to hang out with. How often do you watch a reality show and actually gain respect for the subject?
Rocked could almost be considered a companion piece to that other (better) filmmaking reality series, HBO's Project Greenlight, picking up where that show typically leaves off: Once your little film is released, what becomes of it? Knowing that even a fairly successful star of Gershon's caliber has to work this hard and still not have her movie seen may be of some comfort to struggling young filmmakers like Greenlight winners Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle, but it doesn't bode well for their chances. It's this aspect that makes the show most interesting—watching Gershon sing and play guitar is fun and all, but seeing her bust her ass just to have it jerked around by Studio Boys somehow gives this very surface-oriented premise an unexpected soul.
Docurama, an excellent company that specializes in documentaries, is the group behind the release of IFC's Rocked with Gina Gershon. The show is divided over the course of six episodes (which makes the choice to spread them over two discs a little confounding), running just under a half-hour apiece, with each episode representing a different city-stop on the promotional tour. The shows are presented in their full frame original aspect ratio and with varying degrees of image quality—a number of different video sources are used, including some consumer camcorder models, which at times can result in a pretty crappy picture. Overall, though, everything looks good; even the grainy or dark video stuff looks as good as it can and helps add to the feeling that you're there with the band. The Dolby 2.0 Surround track is solid as well, keeping some of the muddier sections audible and cranking up the juice for the live performances.
The only supplement is a group of deleted scenes that, for once, are actually worth the time to watch. Their collective tone is different from the regular series—all of these scenes basically just show the group goofing off (though nothing found here or elsewhere on the discs is nearly as funny the scene in which a backstage Chris Rock tells the ashes of the late Ted Demme that Who's the Man? sucked).
Ultimately, I can't see recommending the series to wide audiences—its appeal is too limited. You're not really getting much of a rock documentary, because not only is Gershon's experience atypical of a band just starting out—she's already got a built-in fan base and plays to sold-out crowds—but also because the whole "actor as rock star" thing is just the thread on which to hang the real material. For those interested in what the show does have to offer, be they interested in the business side of film or just insatiable Gina Gershon fans, it's definitely worth checking out. Does Rocked rock? Not exactly, but Gershon does—almost enough to make us forget about Showgirls.
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