Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents

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 truly and 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 flubjub on Letterboxd

    When I first heard that they were making a documentary about The Residents, I was predictably excited.

    But later when I actually thought about what a documentary about The Residents would mean, I started to get that 'uh-oh' feeling.

    Would one of the strangest musical acts around get the standard worshipful 'talking head'-style documentary?

    Unfortunately, the answer is (for the most part) yes. There are several famous and not-so-famous fans putting in their obligatory appearances in order to say how freaking great The Residents are—and you can't blame them for wanting to do their part. The Residents are in fact great.

    But holy lost opportunity! Why didn't The Residents direct a documentary about themselves and make it the work of weirdo art that it deserves to be?

    But still. It's a documentary on The Residents. It includes background (albeit limited) and video and performance clips, so it ain't gettin' any fewer than three-and-a-half stars from me.

    My two-cents' worth: How can the lead singer of The Residents be anybody but Homer Flynn? Now that the guy doesn't wear a full face mask, it seems pretty obvious it's him, right? The bottom of their faces are the same!

  • ★★★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 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.

    Full review for the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival.

  • ★★★★ review by pkazee on Letterboxd

    Better the 2nd time.

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