Small Screen Berkeley: ‘CREEM’, ‘A Thousand Cuts’ and ‘Sunless Shadows’

A labor of love, ‘CREEM’ is an entertaining tribute to an irreverent (and sometimes rather rude) magazine. ‘A Thousand Cuts’ is a much more sombre affair while ‘Sunless Shadows’ is worthwhile.

Barry Kramer, Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs as seen in CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine. Photo: Courtesy Roxie Theater

You may disagree, but your humble scribe believes there’s a significant difference between ‘rock & roll’ and ‘rock’. Rock & roll is — or was — Little Richard going bonkers on the piano, Chuck Berry duck-walking across the stage and Bo Diddley pounding out his special beat on that distinctive cigar box guitar. Rock, on the other hand, consists largely of endless drum solos, pretentious and/or deadly serious lyrics, and self-indulgent virtuosity.

In the 1970s, CREEM Magazine understood the importance of this distinction better than any of its competition — including the poker-faced and painfully adult Rolling Stone. The decidedly irreverent monthly gets its cinematic due in CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, now available for streaming via both Rialto Cinemas Elmwood and the Virtual Roxie.

A labor of love produced by J J Kramer, son of ‘CREEM’ publishers Barry and Connie Kramer, CREEM is a hugely entertaining tribute to this irreverent (and sometimes rather rude) magazine. Founded in Detroit in 1969, ‘CREEM’ helped launch the careers of critics Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Cameron Crowe, Greil Marcus, and Dave Marsh, all of whom (barring the late Bangs) appear here in interview segments. Also present: Patti and Suzi Quatro, Destroy All Monsters’ front woman Niagara, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer (no relation to the publishers), Joan Jett, and, erm, Ted Nugent (the film ends with Marsh relating a hilarious and perhaps apocryphal Nugent anecdote).

Though only 75 minutes long, CREEM is laden with remarkable early days footage of life in the magazine’s anarchic office and even more remarkable stories of rock n’ roll excess and bad behavior — one of which likely explains the absence of Iggy Pop from the film. And then there’s the contents of the magazine itself, perhaps best exemplified here by a glance at its column-long review of Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’: the word ‘NO’ repeated several hundred times.

Also available at both the Elmwood and the Roxie – and Pacific Film Archive, as well! – A Thousand Cuts is a much more sombre affair. Detailing the persecution of independent Philippines news outlet Rappler and its Filipino-American editor Maria Ressa (Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ in 2018) at the hands of President Rodrigo Duterte, the film is a timely warning about governments that consider the press the enemy of the people.

Directed by Ramona S. Diaz, A Thousand Cuts records the largely one-sided battle between the man dubbed ‘Duterte Harry’ and Rappler, which began immediately after his inauguration (the outlet started naming victims of the new President’s violent and extralegal ‘drug war’ as soon as it began) and reached its climax on June 15th 2020, when Ressa was found guilty of ‘cyber libel’. That’s not the end of the story, of course — she’s facing further trials on seven similarly questionable charges — but it’s a disheartening turn of events that should trouble anyone living in a ‘democracy’.

Finally, Sunless Shadows (screening exclusively at the Roxie) looks at a group of Iranian women jailed for the murders of their abusive husbands, fathers and (in one case) brothers-in-law. Sensitively directed by Mehrdad Oskouei, the film allows each woman to open up and tell their stories via a series of gut-wrenching testimonials. It’s an uneasy but worthwhile viewing experience.