SFIFF – Theory of Obscurity: A film about The Residents: A Review


How to get to know the strangest/greatest band you’ve never heard of.

Have you ever heard of The Residents? Have you never heard of The Residents? Do you know someone who is a huge fan and you’ve never understood why? Have you heard a song of their and wondered how anyone could actually call that music? If you answered yes to any of the above questions than Theory Of Obscurity is a film for you.

First, if actually have never heard of The Residents, a little background information. The Residents are an experimental avant guard music group that started releasing music in and around San Francisco in the early 70s. They have never showed their faces to the public, nor released their names. Most iconically they wore the eyeball masks with top hats starting in the early 80s up until the early 2000s. Over their 40 year career they have always been ahead of their time, releasing the first music videos, long before MTV; they released a CD-ROM game back when CR-ROM was new, and they jumped on the youtube band wagon to release a series of videos. They have released many albums over the years almost making diving into them now an overwhelming task. Personally I suggest “Duck Stab” and “Demons Dance Alone.”

The documentary combines never before seen early footage of the band with interviews with such famous fans as Primus’ Les Claypool, Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening as well as members of Talking Heads, Devo and others. They also interview members of The Cryptic Corporation, the public face of The Residents. These men helped promote these artists who were to focused on their art to worry about promotion. There are also rumors that some of these men may or may not be members of the band, but none of them would ever admit it and it’s never been proven. Through this footage and these interviews, the audience is taken through the history of the band, or at least, as much of their history as they’re willing to share, and even then, you don’t really know how much you can trust, because, well, that’s all part of being The Residents.

I think Les Claypool best describes the first time he heard The Residents, and I’m paraphrasing here. He says the first time he heard it as a kid he hated it, but then like a fungus it grew on him and as it grew he learned to accept the fungus, then eventually like the fungus. “The Residents are apart of my musical fungus.”

If you’re a long time fan of The Residents, like myself, then the rare early footage will be very exciting for you. You’ll learn a few knew things that will be cool, but mostly seeing that rare footage will bring you great joy. If you’ve never heard of them, then this is a great gateway into the strange and wonderful world of America’s most mysterious band. If you know someone who likes them and you don’t understand why, then hopefully this film will give you a little more insight into not only the band, but the mindset of a fan and why they like this band as much as they do. If you hate the band, well…. Maybe you’ll hate them a little bit less after this, or maybe at least understand why you hate them.

Theory of Obscurity is making the rounds on the festival circuit right now, so if there is a big film festival coming near you, see if it will be popping up there. I saw it thanks to the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Director: Don Hardy, Jr.
Notable Cast: Les Claypool, Matt Groening, Penn Jillette, The Residents
Writer:Don Hardy, Jr.

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