Review: ‘What About Me: The Rise of the Nihilist Spasm Band’

A charming, if attenuated, valentine to a 35-year-old Canadian "joke," "What About Me" charts the woolly saga of the Nihilist Spasm Band, musical pranksters whose weekly cacophony sessions have gone on so long, they now find themselves objects of international cult admiration. Catching subjects' wry spirit, Zev Asher's docu will be more a curio than a must-see outside Maple Leaf terrain. But it could pick up some gigs among arts-oriented fest, campus and broadcast programmers.

A charming, if attenuated, valentine to a 35-year-old Canadian “joke,” “What About Me” charts the woolly saga of the Nihilist Spasm Band, musical pranksters whose weekly cacophony sessions have gone on so long, they now find themselves objects of international cult admiration. Catching subjects’ wry spirit, Zev Asher’s docu will be more a curio than a must-see outside Maple Leaf terrain. But it could pick up some gigs among arts-oriented fest, campus and broadcast programmers.

Seven-member NSB was assembled in ’65 by late painter Greg Curnoe to provide soundtrack for his experimental film project. None were musicians, but they made a scary din — amusing themselves, if few others, in London, Ontario. Nonetheless, boho unit persevered, building eccentric instruments, releasing obscure records and honing a unique sound while maintaining “the purity of amateurs.” Now solid bourgeois citizens with grown kids and retirement funds, the men have been nonplussed of late to find NSB truly “big in Japan,” sought for tours, celebrated by punk/avant-garde musicians, etc. Subjects are disarmingly unpretentious; sometimes hilarious perf segs span their history. Only debit is vidpic’s sometimes repetitive, meandering focus; trim-down for hourlong tube slots wouldn’t hurt.

What About Me: The Rise of the Nihilist Spasm Band

Canada

Production

A Sub Versive Media Arts production. (International sales: Sub Versive Media Arts, Toronto.) Produced by Zev Asher, Richard Bingham, Phil Saunders-Arratia. Directed, edited by Zev Asher.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Asher; music, Nihilist Spasm Band, Baku. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Perspective Canada), Sept. 13, 2000. Running time: 79 MIN.
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