takes a look at the iconoclastic musicians of Phish, one of rock and roll's most successful touring bands, a group Rolling Stone
Magazine has called "the most important band of the '90s." This 80-minute documentary tracks the band over the course of a year--on and off stages across the United States, Europe and at home in Vermont. The film wraps with an extensive section devoted to one of Phish's grand festivals, "The Great Went," where 70,000 fans descend on the tiny village of Limestone, Maine, for a spectacular multi-day musical event. Director Todd Phillips, best known for his groundbreaking films, Sundance Award winner Frat House
and the blockbuster comedy Road Trip
, reveals the amazing phenomenon of the band--their music, loyal fans and spectacular live shows. Phillips presents a compelling film that every music fan will find fascinating. Phishheads may be hard-pressed to define what they love about their idols, the Vermont-based jam band Phish, but they know it when they see it--and hear it. And Bittersweet Motel
, the 2000 documentary by Todd Phillips, serves up exactly what they want: generous dollops of the band's free-form, jazz-laced music and by-the-numbers backstage glimpses of the musicians relaxing during rehearsals, between sets, and after hours. The 84-minute film follows a year in the life of the band, from the happening called the Great Went in Maine in August 1997 through the band's 1998 European tour (but inexplicably, the film begins with Europe and ends with the Great Went). Along the way, viewers are treated to long snatches of band favorites like "Wilson" and "Down with Disease."
Affable singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio is the focus of most of the nonmusical scenes, trying to explain the band's cult appeal, or griping about lunk-headed critics who are all too dismissive of the band's often-stellar virtuosity. It's clear that wearing the mantle of the Grateful Dead--especially since the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia--is a mixed blessing for Anastasio, who bristles in one interview about Dead comparisons. Phillips, who directed the fascinating but discredited documentary Frat House and the Tom Green vulgarfest Road Trip, does have an eye for the absurdly comic, especially evident in the few scenes he features of stoner Phishheads, who follow the band from show to show. Bittersweet Motel may not earn the band any new converts, but fans will find more than enough to satisfy those long dry spells between tours. --Anne Hurley