"Wetlands Preserved" proceeds swimmingly as a talking-heads docu chockfull of assorted visionaries and now-famous musicians.
“Wetlands Preserved,” Dean Budnick’s evocation of the groundbreaking, now-extinct Gotham “eco-saloon” that combined social advocacy with cutting-edge music, proceeds swimmingly as a talking-heads docu chockfull of assorted visionaries and now-famous musicians. But in the virtual absence of performance footage, pic disastrously attempts to re-create the club’s concert experience by lamely animating still photographs to dynamic cuts by the likes of Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler and Pearl Jam. Overall, though, docu, which bowed March 14 at New York’s Cinema Village, pays fitting tribute to Wetlands’ unique rebirth of ’60s idealism within a ’90s urban setting.As docu makes clear, Wetlands was the brainchild of founder Larry Bloch, and its incomparable combination of casual warmth, musical experimentation and laid-back eco-activism could only have been pulled off by someone with absolutely no experience in either club management or grassroots organization. Bloch performs a similar unifying function for the docu, his undimmed enthusiasm — punctuated by the wry affection of his ex-wife — rescuing the film from any maudlin sense of loss. Docu was produced by “U2 3D” producer Peter Shapiro, who, not coincidentally, took over ownership of Wetlands from a retiring Bloch while still a mere stripling, keeping the club’s ethos intact until rising real-estate values dictated Wetlands’ closure after 9/11. Tyro helmer Budnick grants equal time and status to all his interviewees, be they animal-rights protesters, super-celebrities or lowly ticket-takers. Their lively, anecdotal reminiscences limn the club’s importance far more convincingly than would any pious pronouncements of Wetlands’ social significance. Plentiful photographs and archival mementos bear keen witness to the wide spectrum of music that found a forum at Wetlands, either upstairs onstage or in the more intimate downstairs lounge, and pic’s rich track generously samples the artists who played there, from Fishbone to Ani DiFranco. Prominently featured as well is the artwork, ranging from the exuberantly painted VW microbus that served as interior sales counter, bulletin board and ticket booth (now a proud exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) to Tim Vega’s fantastic frescos, which still grace what used to be the bathroom. Next to the remnants of such grungy splendor, pic’s tacky computer animations register as both too slick and too amateurish, unworthy of the musical stylings they seek to embroider. Otherwise, tech credits are fine, Jonathan Healy’s laid-back camerawork never overly boxing in the spaces the subjects move in.