As obsessive as I am about the film, I’m equally – or perhaps even more – obsessive about music. I’m always on the lookout for new or previously unheard aural delights, so The Changin’ Times of Ike White (screening at San Francisco’s New People Cinema at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, as part of the continuing Another Hole in the Head festival) was an irresistible attraction.
M. D. (Ike) White was a musical prodigy playing semi-professionally with the likes of Big Mama Thornton by the time he was a teenager. Unfortunately, the immature youngster fell into bad company in between sets and found himself serving life in prison after accidentally discharging a handgun and killing a storekeeper during a strong-arm robbery.
Though now behind bars, White’s reputation as a superb guitarist and songwriter reached former Strangelove and War producer Jerry Goldstein, who promptly arranged a recording session on prison grounds that resulted in the release of Ike’s sole long-player, ‘Changin’ Times,’ in 1976. Unfortunately, the LP sank without trace, Ike was paroled a few years later, and that seemed to be the end of the story.
Enter Irish filmmaker Daniel Vernon, who was determined to track White down and find out what happened next. And track him down he did: in 2014, the secretive ex-con surfaced to tell his story in front of Vernon’s camera.
Alas – unlike 2012’s Searching for Sugar Man – there was to be no happy ending or musical comeback for Ike White, as this film (produced for the BBC) makes crystal clear. Indeed, the further we get into The Changin’ Times of Ike White the less we seem to know what to believe about him.
It’s an overstatement to suggest that White could have been a contender: musical history is littered with the stories of failed players and composers who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his album – while showing promise – was shackled by the limitations of being recorded in a mobile studio under less than ideal circumstances. Nonetheless, this compelling documentary about a complicated man no one understood – not even the many women he loved during his post-release years – offers broad appeal.
Svart Cirkel (Black Circle, screening at New People at 7 p.m.on Thursday, Dec. 12) offers a gangbusters first half ultimately let down by an overly complex and not terribly satisfying final act. Though set in contemporary Sweden, the film is laden with 70s-style imagery — entirely appropriate, as it stars that decade’s Swedish scream queen Christina Lindberg in her first big-screen appearance since 1982.
Black Circle’s retro qualities extend to its plot, which involves a long-playing self-hypnosis record that exerts an evil influence over those who listen to it late at night. It’s a good premise bolstered by excerpts from a well-made faux industrial film, but things grind to a halt at the film’s midway point when too many characters are introduced for too little purpose.
Finally, if I can’t say something good about a film, I generally prefer to say nothing at all. However, if you’re tempted to take in Beneath the Black Veil (screening at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13), please don’t succumb: it’s truly one of the worst horror films I’ve ever seen.