By Jeremy Evans
It has been twenty years since they played their last show, but people can't stop talking about The Replacements. Over 130 of them, in fact, in director Gorman Bechard's Color Me Obsessed, the first documentary of the legendary 1980s rock band.
Moviegoers have a chance to find out what all the fuss is about at the sixth annual Hell's Half Mile Film & Music Festival, where Obsessed will receive its Michigan debut on September 30.
While hardly a household name—the group's biggest hit didn't even crack the Top 50—The Replacements' fame lives on two decades after their dissolution in the unbridled, well, obsession of their fans.
“This band is the essence of what rock is,” enthuses Bechard. “They saved rock and roll.”
That's quite a legacy for a bunch of sloppy, boozy young men from the media hinterland of Minneapolis. With their self-sabotaging tendencies (such as being banned for life from Saturday Night Live after a disastrously drunken performance), The Replacements had to be utterly brilliant most of the time to be heard over their own noisy antics. Yet somehow, as the journalists, musicians and fans interviewed in Color Me Obsessed attest, they were.
“Every band since 1987 owes something to them,” Bechard says, and many in his film agree with him: Nirvana's former manager, rockers like Craig Finn of The Hold Steady and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, and even the Goo Goo Dolls, who declare that they “can't believe how much we stole from them.” Not bad for a band who once lamented of their journey up the “ladder of success” that they “take one step and miss the whole first rung.”
But Bechard has more in mind for this film than simply evangelizing for The Replacements. The director eschewed making a traditional rock-doc nostalgia trip. Color Me Obsessed is, above all, a love letter to music fans themselves; indeed, not one film clip of The Replacements or snippet of their music appears in the film. Instead, the film is an oral history in which the focus is on the volcanic enthusiasm that The Replacements have engendered in their devotees—a fervor that many can relate to regarding their own favorite band.
“It's a movie about passion,” says Bechard, “that particular passion people have for a band. It's about how a band can grab a hold of you at the right age and stay with you forever, until it becomes like family. I think whatever band you are most passionate about, watching this movie will make you go home and put on all your old records.”
Passion for “The Mats” (as they are fondly known to fans) runs so high that it was easy for Bechard to find scores of willing interviewees once work on the film began. Among those who jumped at the chance to tell their stories of the “last, best band of the '80s” (as Musician magazine famously dubbed the group) are giants of rock criticism (Robert Christgau, Ira Robbins) and celebrities (Tom Arnold, George Wendt, Dave Foley). One unexpected celebrity fan, though, eluded Bechard.
“Believe it or not, we found out that Pat Sajak is a huge Replacements fan,” Bechard told the AV Club this spring. Unfortunately for Wheel of Fortune fans, the scheduling could not be worked out. “I would have loved that,” Bechard added. “When you saw Pat Sajak on the screen it would have been really funny.”
Questions about the film's radical approach—after all, a film about a band without a note of the band's music in it is bound to raise eyebrows—have followed Bechard for months, but the director is unequivocal that this was his concept from the start.
“I wouldn't have made it any other way,” he says, explaining his take on fandom by way of analogy: “People don't need to see God to believe, for God to be a deep part of their life.”
Yet Bechard may have had another reason in mind for throwing rock-doc traditions out the window, beyond satisfying the audience.
“I wanted to do this movie how The Replacements would do it,” he says of his unconventional style. “Like them, I'm either going to succeed beautifully or fall flat on my face.” Spoken like a true fan.
© Jeremy Evans, 2011