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Film: Reel Music

Filmmaker John Parker looks at the local music scene via his documentary, Dead On

By Sara Beiting · October 19th, 2005 · Movies
  Dead On about Greater Cincinnati's music scene: (L-R) John Parker, Jerry Adams and George Forste
Martha Kuperman

Dead On about Greater Cincinnati's music scene: (L-R) John Parker, Jerry Adams and George Forste

Frustration can be a powerful thing. It has the capability to create wonder and enlightenment, which John Parker has produced in his latest film, Dead On. Residing in Cincinnati for four years, Parker has seen the names come and go in the local music scene. A musician himself, he's more than aware of the countless artists who go unrecognized.

Frustration culminating, he reached out earlier this year to those in the arena -- from the unknown to the highly acclaimed -- and invited them to take part in an avant-garde documentary presenting perspective on Cincinnati's music scene.

Dead On is a panorama of 40 diverse local bands and musical personalities of varying breadth and depth. In his own no-holds-bar film fashion, Parker canvasses the trials and tribulations facing today's musicians.

The native New Yorker has been rolling his reel in filmmaking for more than a decade. Parker had the opportunity to sit in on location during the filming of Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, where he found himself drawn to the instrumentation of filmmaking. He then found his footing through Super 8 and 16-mm film and gained confidence in his creative abilities.

Inspired by David Lynch, Parker's experimentation with hand-painted film transpires in Black while his passion for light and moving imagery appears in Eye of the Spirit.

A recent Underneath Cincinnati screening at The Mockbee featured Parker's Homegrown, a collection of eight short films that included the two aforementioned.

Some of his films are tracked to music written and performed by Parker at his home studio, Subversive Records Limited.

Parker brought in music scene veterans Jerry Adams and George Forste to produce Dead On. Adams is a host on WAIF-FM's Kindred Sanction and plays guitar in Hobilly. Forste has his own recording company, IDGF Underground, and has worked with an array of music ranging from Metal to Native American.

Abiding by the Dogme 95 Manifesto, Parker holds true in producing his documentary without using illusions that movies can easily hide behind. Dead On was produced honestly and is, Parker says, "Conducive to telling the truth about playing music in Cincinnati." The film's authenticity has been preserved simply because there was no editing based on personal bias.

Utilizing his creativity of light and means of adaptability, Parker shows a raw purity throughout the film. Dead On presents, he says, "Cool styles to showcase what we have locally (and) say, 'Hey, there's something more' (to the local music scene).' "

Something more, to say the least. With 40 musical personalities, viewers are bound to discover something new. They'll also gain rare insight from artists, promoters and producers alike.

From Punk to Metal to Bluegrass to Jazz to Floetry, there's a beat for everyone. Strong local forces featured in the film include Abiyah, Jake Speed, Buckra and the Gregory Morris Group. Under-the-radar talent like Jim Cole, Ronnie Thompson and the Marmalade Brigade are equally exposed.

While some segments offer live performances, others involve dialogue and perspectives on local issues from original music to musicians' mentalities to band relations to community support. The band A Sordid Story touch on the originality of local music, debating if such a thing has ever existed.

Opinions are born and evolve with time concerning the pros and the cons unique to Cincinnati's music scene. Is it true that our musicians aren't open to exploring other genres? If they don't have the tolerance to stop and check out others, why would their audiences? Do we have zero tolerance for experimentation? Are egos to blame? Some musicians think so, others don't.

Abiyah came to the surface in 2001 and has collaborated with the gamut of local musicians.

"Support among musicians here is somewhat segregated," she says in a separate interview. "(People should) acknowledge that their musical peers are out there working just as hard as they are to reach a common goal."

When asked if anyone had an impact on his perspective during this experimental endeavor, Parker replies without hesitation: "Johnny Schott."

Johnny Schott Talent & Events has been going strong promoting and producing locally since 1995.

"One of the more unfortunate aspects of the recent musical dialogue has been the rather nasty and negative comments of some original artists about 'cover' bands and their audiences," Schott says. "One assumes that they are booked because the material they perform is appropriate to what the venue and its audience is looking for."

Parker rose from the position that original bands shouldn't play cover tunes in the name of music as art. Music is to be performed as an artist feels it, not necessarily according to what's expected or to please the audience.

While he might not have spun a 180, Parker's mind has stretched into new territory regarding musicians and their fans thanks to Schott. Schott reminded him that, without one, the other couldn't exist.

There couldn't be a better way to address Cincinnati's music community than a documentary featuring 40 of our musical entities. Parker has encapsulated a diverse scope of local talent in Dead On to expose the frustrations and obstacles in producing and playing music today.

"Some will criticize," Parker says. "Others will bring solutions."

DEAD ON debuts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at UC's Main Street Cinema. A 6 p.m. performance by Ronnie Thompson and Michael McIntire of the Marmalade Brigade precedes the screening. For more information, call 513-621-4700.


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