If you just read the title of this post and are asking yourself “who?” then you are far from being alone. I didn’t even know who Alan Zweig was until a couple of days ago when I stumbled upon a list. I love lists but I absolutely adore movie lists. As I dig myself deeper and deeper into my movie obsession, I usually find these lists have less and less to offer me. But when it comes to certain genres and pretentious people, I find that I can easily find a few undiscovered gems while perusing that particular list. The current list I am talking about is available on Pitchfork and it is a list about musicians or music related documentaries. There were several on there that I hadn’t heard of before and one of them was Vinyl. Vinyl is about the exploration of vinyl collectors. I am a sucker for films that explore obsessions, especially obsessions that I think is cool. I have my own small vinyl collection and have always fantasized about having an extensive collection. So I watched this film. This is how I discovered Alan Zweig.
Vinyl explores the interviewees obsessions and neurosis behind wanting to collect such an outdated medium. But it didn’t only explore the interviewees lives, but also the life of the filmmaker himself who is also an extensive collector of vinyl. Why do people seem to want to have large collections of stuff? A lot of people in the film is that it is not about the vinyl itself it is about the music. They love to listen to music, but the music can only be on vinyl. Vinyl is the medium where they first discovered their favorite musicians. So vinyl is the only pure way to listen to music. But eventually it does not become about the music, it becomes about the hunt. These people he interviews spend all of their free time, all of their money and all of their lives amassing such an insane amount of records. But there is no judgement about these people because the filmmaker is experiencing the exact same obsession. He wants nothing more than to amass this easy listening library. The tricky thing is that he does not even like easy listening and yet he still feels the need to buy them. I felt a kindred spirit with these interviewees. I know that my obsession to see everything ever put to film, videotape or digital storage is a lot like these people’s need to buy everything Elvis for instance. I know that I am running away from something. What that something is, I would rather not say, but it is there.
Once I finished Vinyl, I researched the film like I always do. I found out that he had a trilogy of sorts that explores one aspect of the filmmaker’s personality. The next entry in his trilogy is I, Curmudgeon. In this documentary, Alan explores his tendency to be a cynic. It is spurred by this old Nike commercial that featured William S. Burroughs. He was talking about it with a group of people and they said they all thought it was cool. He just could not fathom why co opting an image of someone who was such a vile human being in order to sell shoes was cool. So he voiced his opinion and got an adverse reaction. He then goes on to interview other curmudgeon to explore why they came to be so cynical in their lives. A lot of these people that he interviews are the type of people can’t hold their tongue when they know something isn’t right. They think about the world, about the evils that lie in every moment of the day. Again I can relate to this. I have always admired “cranky” people and thought that they see the truth more than people who are truly happy do. Just like many people in this film I have become cynical because of dreams lost already in my short 24 years of life. I am sarcastic and negative about the human race. But this isn’t just me, it is the filmmaker and it is the interviewees. People that are sensitive and lean towards the creative arts seem to also bring a bit of heartache and cynicism with them. They have been hurt and the only way to not get hurt again is hurt that person first. I make fun of strangers that I never met, because deep down inside I want to look or act like that person.
The last film in the trilogy is Lovable. One of the filmmaker’s biggest obsessions is the lack of a partner. When he is making these films he is in his late forties to mid fifties and he is still single. Not for the lack of trying, but he just cannot find someone who is willing to share a life with him and give him children. This seems like the most personal film for him to make and probably the most painful. In order to explore his issues, he decides to interview older women (mid thirties to mid fifties I would say…) who are still single. They talk about what it feels like looking down the road and maybe not having someone to care for you or take you out of a burning building. All of these women seemed to have been alone for an extended amount of time, but they don’t seem desperate. These women are empowered women who just want someone who will share their full lives with them. They don’t necessarily need the companionship, they just want it. One woman describes dating this man for three months. He would come to her house and would never see how well she improved it. This was indicative of the lack of knowledge this man had about her life. She worked hard on her house and she wanted it to be acknowledged by this man. One day one of his friends comes by and immediately starts to ask her about these improvements. She was more than happy to entertain these questions. Later on that night she was talking to her boyfriend and asked about what he thought about his friend asking those questions. He said that he was bored. At that moment I really felt for that woman. Something that she worked really hard on and put a lot of love in goes completely unnoticed by a man who could be a potential soul mate. She of course breaks up with him that night or soon after, but the hurt from that relationship will still be with her when she enters into the next one. Another woman talks about how as she has gotten older she has turned invisible to most men. She talks about this phenomenon that once you are no longer traditionally sexy and young then you are no longer considered valuable in traditional society. I feel like the filmmaker feels the same way about himself. He isn’t the most attractive older man in the world but he still has his qualities that I find attractive and yet he feels like women pass him by without ever noticing his presence. This is the saddest film of this trilogy and yet it is the most up lifting. These women and the filmmaker may not have a companion yet but they still find joy in their life. They don’t want to be pitied by their married or paired up friends and family. They want to be thought of as their own person, still alive and passionate. I hope that every woman in the film and even the filmmaker finds what they are looking for and is happy with their lives.
As you can tell by my little synopses and thoughts on these films, they are not the happiest journeys that you can take. But they are well worth exploring and maybe you find something in them that speaks to you just like I did. You may see some famous people in them, but it is not important that they are famous. All that is important is the ideas and thoughts that they express. All of them are available for free on the wild wild internet. Please seek them out. He is a great documentarian just waiting patiently for you to discover him.