The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
January 23, 2024 07:00PM

Bob Mothersbaugh is apparently not into it. Maybe not happy about being roped into the family business? But looks great to me, can't wait to see it.
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Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
January 23, 2024 09:52PM
MOMA also played a program of the band's early short films and videos as part of its "To Save and Project" restoration series. If they've recently been restored, presumably they will circulate around.
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Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
January 28, 2024 05:03PM
I was there! (It was actually last night.) I know Devo and Gerald's social media accounts advertised it, but I wasn't prepared for the large turnout. Tickets sold out in advance (which has happened to a lot of MoMA screenings lately) but interest was definitely higher than usual - an hour before the screening, there was both a long standby line and a long line of ticket holders showing up early. Some cool sightings, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth was one of the first people seated in the theater, and Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley walked through the lobby, so it's possible they were trying to get in.

FWIW, this was originally booked for their smaller theater and remained so when I bought an advance ticket a week ago, but I'm guessing they moved it to the bigger (and better) theater due to the demand.

Here's the museum's listing for the screening:

Peter Conheim gave the introduction and then he moderated a post-screening discussion with Mark and Gerald before taking questions from the audience. Q&A's for these things can vary quite a bit, but this was one of the generous ones, lasting 30+ minutes and stretching past 9pm.

Just so it doesn't get lost to history, here are some notes:

Conheim's intro was appropriately only a few minutes. He mentioned nearly everything was restored from the original film negative. The earliest films had been done all on film anyway, but once they were on Warner Bros. and moved into the MTV/video era, that meant a transition to shooting on film but editing on videotape - the rough equivalent of "standard definition" and not up to today's standards. So they went the extra mile and scanned the original film negative and recut it to match. (The few things that looked like video looked good for what it was, and I'm guessing they left them as video because of substantial video effects that might've been too tricky to replicate correctly.)

During the discussion and Q&A they covered a lot of ground. From what I can remember chronologically (in terms of what was addressed rather than the order the topics were discussed), someone asked about their legendary 1975 Cleveland show with Sun Ra and whether it existed in complete form. Conheim would chime in much later, saying it did and that a good chunk of it was presented on a Rykodisc reissue, but first Gerald hilariously recalled how it was disastrous for them. It was Halloween, so all the men were apparently dressed in clichéd outfits like the Wolfman and the Mummy, but the women were all dressed like prostitutes, and I think he said a lot of them were high on nitrous oxide or something. He said that they got the gig because they lied and said they were a cover band - so they would go on and say, "here's a song from Bad Company," then play one of their own. The response naturally was "hey, that's not Bad Company! You suck!" and they'd retaliate by playing "Jocko Homo" ("you can imagine how that went"). Eventually they got out of there, went to some crappy restaurant nearby, and came back dressed as their regular selves which meant none of the hostile audience members would recognize them. But by that point only 20 or 30 people were still there for Sun Ra, and Gerald and Mark said he was amazing. Mark then said Sun Ra inspired his keyboard style - he then demonstrated Sun Ra's aggressive technique and said Sun Ra played with his palms and fingers wide open, bashing the keyboards the whole time. Mark thought "that sounds great!" and adopted that style.

One of the highlights of the night was seeing their early performances at Max's with David Bowie introducing them. There were two cameras FWIW and though the film sometimes showed just one angle, a lot of it was split screen. Conheim mentioned they didn't leave this in the film but there is a shot where you can see something like a rolled up classroom projection screen, which was their low budget set-up for showing pre-show films at the time. (Gerald mentioned they avoided opening acts, listing many practical aesthetic reasons, and said the films were made for that reason, serving as their "opener.") It sounded like artists really liked what they were doing early on - besides Bowie, Toni Basil came to a show with Iggy Pop and Dean Stockwell and of course it was Stockwell who got a tape and passed that on to Neil Young. Conheim mentioned the appropriate footage from the film they did with Young wasn't included in the screening because Young owns it, and they were still negotiating with their camp to let them not only restore the picture but to restore it to the full nine minutes as Young edited it down later on.

Earlier, Mark mentioned that Warner Bros. wanted to spend something like $5000 on life-size Devo cutouts for promotion, and they asked them if they could take that money to make a film. Warner reluctantly agreed, but that's also how they came to own ALL of their films - they were done using promotional money that was meant to spent, not recouped in some way as if it was a loan (outside of album sales), and they were so far ahead of the curve, no record contract at the time made any mention of short films, so all of that just went to the band. "Whip It" was the only time they were asked to make a film - the label usually didn't get why they wanted to make them and let them do whatever they wanted with them, but when "Whip It" became a surprise hit, they asked them to do something for it. (Mark joked they wrote it for Jimmy Carter to help his re-election campaign - I always associated Devo with the Reagan era in terms of what their music was about and what it sounded like, so when Mark said that, it kind of raised my respect for the band as being that much more innovative.)

They actually shot a 35mm film projected as backdrop for a tour and they'd interact with it. (They actually rehearsed with the film and got to a point where they could play in conjunction with it with great precision.) Digital makes it easy now, but back then, that kind of technology didn't exist, so they took the very cumbersome and very expensive route of touring with their own 35mm projector. People like David Bowie came to those shows because they wanted to do it too and wanted to see how it was done. Gerald mentioned an L.A. Times critic who said what they did was like a video game - "if I wanted to see that, I'd go to an arcade. Go home and play some rock n' roll!!" Gerald then said "After all that work, that's what we get? Imagine if David Byrne had done that."

With Rod Rooter, they said they wouldn't name names, but they didn't really write any of his dialogue - when they moved to L.A., they couldn't believe how much worse the industry was out there and made a point to remember all the garbage execs, promoters, etc. would tell them then regurgitate it for Rod Rooter. (They did say most of the dialogue probably came from a Warner exec named "Bob," adding "too many Bobs!")

When someone asked them about working within the system, Gerald said the '80s kind of suggested that subversion was going to be more effective than rebellion, and Mark elaborated on that by discussing their commercial work. They did a Hawaiian Punch commercial where the tag line was "Hawaiian Punch hits where it counts," which Mark then countered with what sounds like a distorted vocal that says "sugar is bad for you." When they went to meet the producers to screen the ad, I think it was Mark's brother Bob who said "you shouldn't have done that, we're going to get in trouble now," but at the end, the producers just high-fived each other and said "Yes! It DOES hit where it counts!" and once they realized they can get away with that sort of thing, they did it for every commercial they scored.

Gerald mentioned it was sad to see "devolution" as expressed in their work play out so terribly in the world, saying "do you think anyone 25 years ago would've predicted what you're going to face in November?"

Finally, someone mentioned Bob Casale and how in a few weeks it will be ten years since his passing, and Gerald said he still hasn't deleted Bob's name and number from his phone.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/28/2024 05:17PM by belfast.
Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
May 17, 2024 12:51PM
So, this came to the DC area yesterday and my daughter and I went. Surprisingly, it wasn't sold out (tickets were only $20) but it was pretty crowded. The only celebrity that I saw was Ian MacKaye. I hadn't watched any of the videos in awhile so it was nice to see them up on the big screen but boy "That's Good" and "Peekaboo" are really bad videos. The Rod Rooter - Donut stuff was hilarious. Laraine Newman really nailed that valley girl character. I wish they had done more with that. The Max's Kansas City footage was fantastic. "Clockout" and "Mr. DNA" really crackled. Hopefully, there's more of that.

During the Q&A, they talked about Human Highway for awhile. Gerald though the movie was terrible and was really frustrated with all the wasted money since he was always trying to scrape up money for the DEVO projects. Mark thought the movie was terrible initially but having seen it late, he gets it now. I haven't seen the film but I suspect the best part is the DEVO sequence.

Someone asked about what is was like meeting their peers like OMD, the Human League, Ultravox and Gary Numan. They liked them all but particularly were taken with Numan. They saw his Pleasure Principle tour and Gerald was jealous of the light show but he got to drive the golf cart around before the show.

They mentioned how they didn't like opening bands because they were usually bad rock bands so that's why they came up with Dove. They wore suits that came from the Century 21 real estate company. They really enjoyed the fact that most of the fans were booing them, yelling for DEVO but people up front after awhile figured out the joke.

Belfast - Peter Conheim asked the crowd if they filmed any of the Q&A to get it to him for the archives. He said he forgot to ask when they were at the MOMA so if you have something send it to him.

Afterwards, I was telling my daughter what I remembered about the controversy with the "Are U Experienced?" video and the Hendrix estate. She said what was the big deal, Jimi Hendrix played in the video so he didn't have a problem with that, why did his family? I then explained that he'd been dead for sometime before. Ah, kids.
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Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
May 17, 2024 02:13PM
Oh man, all I did was take a few photos, but had I known, I would've been more than happy to record it - I was pretty close to the stage and my phone had plenty of free memory.

FWIW, I think this is partly a thing with NYC film crowds, but MoMA screenings typically have some really fussy and cantankerous jerks who raise a stink about anything, so having Conheim make that request would actually have helped. To put it in perspective, late last month I went to MoMA's lecture (not a screening, a lecture) about the restoration of Frank Borzage's Man's Castle, and the archivist from Sony had a slide show going displaying all her notes. The slides were packed with information, so I thought it would be a good idea to photograph each one. The slides each stayed up for at least a full minute, and it took literally two seconds for me to get a good photo before I put my phone down each time. The lights were already up, I was way off to the side (very few people looking past me at the slide show) and I even keep my screen display at a low light level all the time just to be less distracting. Some guy near me raised a stink like I was committing a crime - he didn't work for the museum or Sony, he was just some random guy who bought a ticket to this. Again, it's a LECTURE - you're mainly listening to a person talk as they're piped through the theater's sound system. I stopped just to get him off my back, but he actually left 10 minutes later, so I don't even know why he bothered.
Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
January 31, 2024 09:18AM
Thank you for that detailed report!
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Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
January 31, 2024 03:54PM
You're welcome Ira!

Also a sad footnote, it's been reported that Brian Griffin passed away in his sleep on Monday.


He photographed many memorable album covers, including the one for B Stiff, Devo's first EP. The original uncropped photo was published in Griffin's book, POP. I scanned the page, made an 8"x10" photo from it and was able to get Mark and Gerald to sign it on Saturday. (It's hanging on my office wall as I type.)

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/31/2024 03:54PM by belfast.
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Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
February 01, 2024 03:03AM
One quick update about that doc, Gerald did an interview on YouTube where he answers a question about it at the 13:40 mark:


A pretty blunt answer, he says a previous attempt at a documentary fell apart, and this one is "whitewashed, manicured, cleaned up...there's no warts" and points out that "Mark's production company Mutato Entertainment gets front and center billing" while "his wife gets second producer billing...let's just say it's a love letter."
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Re: The DEVO Film About DEVO Called "DEVO."
May 17, 2024 02:45PM
Durn, is there a listing of where/when this film is playing? I got a swelling, itching brain trying to Google that info and gave up.
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