Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents
Directed by Don Hardy Jr.
Theory of Obscurity tells the story of the renegade sound and video collective known as The Residents…a story that spans 40 years and is clouded in mystery. Many details surrounding the group are secret, including the identities of its members. They always perform wearing masks and costumes, which is part of their magic. At its heart, this story is about perseverance and chasing your dream. The Residents never caved to convention. They never compromised. They’ve followed their muse for decades and thousands of fans have hung on for the ride. Along the way they’ve also inspired many people to be weird, take chances and find their own voice.
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★★★★ review by Scumbalina on Letterboxd
I'm seeing a lot of lukewarm reviews here and as a long time Residents fan, I don't really get it. What did you guys expect? The Eyeball masks to come off right on camera? I've never dwelled much on their history. Their music is so dense and fulfilling and the accompanying visuals so potent that it's always been relatively easy to take them at face value. It's not really an easy topic to make a documentary about, while there's a plethora of content that anonymity thing is ominous and deserves respect. I appreciated the chronology of their evolution as depicted in the film even if it was mostly information I already had in one way or another, seeing it play out on a timeline somehow made it more clear. What's most impressive about the Residents is their longevity and ability to make careers out of this totally liberated art concept. I think the lesson to take away is that to find real success you have to completely remove your ego from what you're doing. What's the saying? starve the ego, feed the soul. The Residents 45 year success story is proof of that.
★★★½ review by cupofcoffinjoe on Letterboxd
As a big fan of The Residents, I had been looking forward to checking out this doc for quite a bit. The band/collective is a fairly inscrutable topic that would present challenges to any narrative approach, so I was curious to see what they'd come up with. To my initial chagrin, instead of going all avant-garde on our asses, this documentary runs as far as it can in the other direction, presenting one of the most conventional docs you'll ever see. But that turned out to be a good thing. I was able to see a lot of the amazing visual stuff The Residents produced, most of which I hadn't seen since the Night Flight years. I learned a thing or two, and, most importantly, became caught up in the excitement of their creative tidal wave that swept through the documentary and into my brain. I had forgotten just how inspiring these DIY geniuses had been to me over the years.
So, on the downside it's a very conventional documentary that, despite its best efforts, tends to demystify the group a bit. On the plus side...everything else. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and create something.
Summer Watchlist Reduction Project 52/200
★★★½ review by Adam R on Letterboxd
A mostly too-conventional music documentary about one of my favorite bands, but still great to see them on the screen. It was also super enlightening to see footage of their first performance in San Francisco with N. Senada, back before they were The Residents.
Other than that, there's not necessarily too much new for die hard fans; I'd be curious to see what other people who aren't as familiar with them think. There are some strange omissions (they barely touch on Eskimo, and skip pretty much everything from 1995-2010) and curious focusing (at least one too many long performances from their 2014 tour, probably because that was filmed during production of the movie). Still, if at least one weird kid sees this and expands their horizons, it'll be worth it.
★★★½ review by Richard S. He on Letterboxd
There’s only one rule for music documentaries: do they tell you more than you could learn from the artist’s work alone? The problem is, The Residents’ music is deliberately inscrutable. Their best experiments transform childlike mischief into the sinister, clown voices into the existential – but they reveal nothing about their creators. Fittingly, Theory of Obscurity presents the band’s work in the same fashion as their early sound collages: as an endless parade of non sequiturs. Theory of Obscurity makes you long for context, some kind of explanation – but that’s the joke! There is no punch line.
★★★½ review by Jenna Ipcar on Letterboxd
A great documentary about The Residents- fantastic footage, high caliber interviews and just the right sense of humor. Those who are looking for an expose will be disappointed (though I feel like you can draw some reasonably intelligent conclusions if you're looking), this is really more of a love letter to the band, or perhaps even a great introduction.
The Residents can be hard to stomach sometimes, and even then I've found a lot of their digital work hasn't aged terribly well, but Hardy does a great job of editing down and keeping the pace up and interest/energy high.
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