The Holy Modal Rounders … Bound to Lose

"The Holy Modal Rounders ... Bound to Lose" offers an intriguing overview of the cult-fave combo that improbably evolved from an acoustic duo to a psychedelic country-folk-rock band. Theatrical prospects are slim, but docu might prove popular with niche auds in cable and homevid venues.

Charged with alternating currents of affection, exuberance and ineffable melancholy, “The Holy Modal Rounders … Bound to Lose” offers an intriguing overview of the cult-fave combo that improbably evolved from an acoustic duo to a psychedelic country-folk-rock band. Theatrical prospects are slim, but docu might prove popular with niche auds in cable and homevid venues.

Shot over a three-year period by helmers Sam Wainwright Douglas and Paul Lovelace, pic focuses primarily on fiddler Peter Stampfel and guitarist Steve Weber, who began the Rounders during the ’60s folk movement in New York’s Greenwich Village. Other interviewees include actor-playwright Sam Shepard, who served as drummer for the Rounders from 1966-69, and Dennis Hopper, who gave the band its greatest mainstream visibility by including a Rounders tune (“If You Want to be a Bird”) on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack.

Through four decades of personnel changes and shifting alliances — for two years, the group performed as part of the Fugs, a notorious Lower East Side rock band — the Rounders have continued to perform outsider music with a self-satirical edge for a relatively small but fiercely devoted fan base. Along the way, natch, drug abuse, internal conflicts and nonstop touring have taken their toll.

In the early ’80s, Stampfel took an extended sabbatical from the group to kick a speed habit. During interviews with filmmakers, he describes how he cleaned up his act, started a family and found a day job as editor at a Manhattan publishing house.

In sharp contrast, Weber takes pride in being a fun-loving reprobate. He remained with the band long after its relocation to Oregon. And while he claims to have kicked an even nastier drug habit, he also remains an unapologetic sybarite when it comes to drinking and generally raising hell.

“Bound to Lose” generates palpable dramatic tension during extended scenes in which Weber (bearded and bedraggled) and Stampfel (a wild man on stage, but almost placid in person) squabble like a married couple, particularly over who should receive songwriting credit for classic Rounders songs.

Loosely structured pic builds to a climax of sorts as long-simmering disputes and unbreakable bad habits threaten to disrupt the group’s 40th anniversary tour.

Helmers do a reasonably efficient job of interweaving archival footage, talking-heads interviews and cinema-verite reportage. But it’s occasionally jarring — andconfusing — to note changes in appearances of interviewees over the extended shooting period.

Funniest moment is prompted by a clip of a 1968 Rounders performance, with Shepard as drummer, on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” Pic immediately cuts to a recent interview with a frankly incredulous Shepard, who remarks: “We were on ‘Laugh-In’? No! I don’t remember any of this! What kind of drugs were we on?”

The Holy Modal Rounders … Bound to Lose

Production: A Badbird production. Produced by Sam Wainwright Douglas, Jesse Fisher, Francis Hatch, Paul Lovelace. Directed, edited by Sam Wainwright Douglas, Paul Lovelace;

Crew: camera (color, DV), Douglas, Jesse Fisher; sound, Pat Donahue. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, Jan. 22, 2006. (At Slamdance Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 87 MIN.

More Film

  • Bertrand Tavernier Hosts Night of Cinema

    Bertrand Tavernier Hosts Night of Cinema Inspired Orchestra in Paris

    Flanked by UniFrance president Serge Toubiana and the National Orchestra of France, filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier stood before a rapt crowd at Paris’ Maison de la Radio this past Saturday to introduce an evening dedicated to French film scores called “May the Music Begin!” That moniker – a reference to the original French title of his [...]

  • Orange Studio Sells Out 'Serial (Bad)

    Orange Studio Sells Out 'Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,' 'City Hunter' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based Orange Studio has nearly sold out its two French comedy highlights, Philippe de Chauveron’s “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2” and Philippe Lacheau’s “City Hunter.” “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,” which opened the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris last week, is the sequel of the smash hit film which grossed over $148 million worldwide. The movie has been [...]

  • Danmarks Sønner, en film af Ulaa

    Trailer for Rotterdam Competition Opener 'Sons of Denmark' Released (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for the opening film of Rotterdam Film Festival’s Tiger Competition, “Sons of Denmark.” The film is a political thriller set in Denmark in 2025, a year after a bomb attack in Copenhagen, when ethnic tensions are running high. An ultra-nationalist politician, Martin Nordahl, and his National [...]

  • Indie Sales Acquires Martin Lund's Nordic

    Indie Sales Acquires Nordic Coming-Of-Age 'Psychobitch' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based company Indie Sales has acquired Martin Lund’s Norwegian coming-of-age drama “Psychobitch” which is headlined by Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne (“Utoya: July 22”). “Psychobitch” marks the first feature film of Martin Lund, who made his debut with “Twigson Ties the Knot,” a local box office hit, and followed up with “The Almost Man,” which won [...]

  • Studiocanal has sold Jean Paul Gaultier's

    Jean Paul Gaultier's 'Freak And Chic' Documentary Sells For Studiocanal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Underscoring the strength and scope of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s legacy around the world, the documentary “Jean Paul Gaultier Freak And Chic,” which chronicles the making of Gaultier’s ongoing popular show in Paris, has been luring distributors in key markets. Sold by Studiocanal and produced by Capa, the documentary has already been picked [...]

  • Korea Box Office: 'MAL·MO·E' and 'Inside

    Korea Box Office: 'MAL·MO·E' and 'Inside Me' Remain on Top

    There was no change at the top of the Korean box office, as local titles “MAL·MO·E: The Secret Mission” and “Inside Me (a.k.a. The Dude in Me)” dominated a second weekend. Lotte’s “MAL·MO·E” earned $4.79 million from 618,000 admissions between Friday and Sunday for a total of $16.7 million from 2.23 million admissions after two [...]


    China Box Office: ‘Bumblebee’ Flies to $138 Million Total

    “Bumblebee” flew to its third weekend of dominance in China. But the Chinese box office remains in lackluster mode at the start of 2019. The spinoff of Paramount’s “Transformers” franchise earned $16.1 million in Chinese theaters between Friday and Sunday, according to data from exhibition and distribution consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was a 38% drop [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content