×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How to Grow a Band

Documaker Mark Meatto strikes an effective balance between focusing on ambitious musicianship and stealing sidelong glances at internecine tensions in "How to Grow a Band."

With:
With: Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Chris Eldridge, Noam Pikelny, Greg Garrison, Paul Kowert, John Paul Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Sara Watkins.

Documaker Mark Meatto strikes an effective balance between focusing on ambitious musicianship and stealing sidelong glances at internecine tensions in “How to Grow a Band.” The pic offers an intimately up-close look at the formation of Punch Brothers, a progressive bluegrass ensemble begun by mandolinist Chris Thile after the break-up of the Grammy-winning acoustic trio Nickel Creek. Devotees of folk and bluegrass — and, of course, diehard Nickel Creek fans — are the natural audience for this leisurely paced docu, which should score respectably as a niche homevid release after limited theatrical playdates.

Drawing on archival material, Meatto briskly limns Thile’s salad days as a musical prodigy — he appears almost hilariously self-confident in a vintage clip that shows him performing with Nickel Creek at age 9 — then intros the mandolinist as a restless twentysomething shortly after the 2007 end of his 18-year musical partnership with siblings Sara and Sean Watkins. (For the record, Nickel Creek is officially “on hiatus,” not defunct.)

On his own personally as well as professionally, Thile writes “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” an elegy for his failed marriage that he describes, with a more or less straight face, as a 40-minute bluegrass string quintet in four movements. His burning desire to record and publicly perform this idiosyncratic composition appears to be the prime motivation for Thile’s inviting four world-class musicians — fiddler Gabe Witcher, acoustic guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Greg Garrison and banjo player Noam Pikelny — to form Punch Brothers.

Although Meatto takes an unabashedly admiring view of Thile and his bandmates, there’s nothing reverential about “How to Grow a Band.” Indeed, the docu occasionally is quite funny, particularly when, early during its first European tour, the group performs “Blind Leaving the Blind” before less-than-enthused Glasgow concertgoers.

Thile complains that the audience was primed to expect something else by advertisements promising “hot bluegrass.” But other members of the group, most notably Garrison, gently suggest the 40-minute composition might be better received by a live audience if it were broken up into shorter segments.

And so it goes: Despite Thile’s insistence during oncamera interviews that he sees Punch Brothers as a democracy, it’s clear his bandmates regard him as, for better or worse, first among equals. While the group in general and its string quintet in particular generate increasingly warmer responses, leading to a triumphant New York performance that is the pic’s musical centerpiece, there is muted dissension within the ranks. Even for viewers who know nothing about the history of the Punch Brothers, the eventual replacement of one band member will come as no surprise.

Which is not to say that Thile comes off as some kind of dictatorial prima donna. “How to Grow a Band” is most fascinating as it tactfully charts the sort of artistic and philosophical differences that can eventually undermine any group endeavor, even among seemingly like-minded collaborators. Bassist Edgar Meyer, one of Thile’s friends and sometime collaborators, goes so far as to suggest that any band composed of strong-willed, musically adventurous individuals probably should expect a short lifespan.

Punch Brothers continues to exist as a group; it released a new album in February 2012, and contributed to the soundtrack of “The Hunger Games.” But Meatto’s docu none too subtly hints that Meyer’s words may yet prove prophetic.

Appropriately enough, the sound mix is excellent throughout. Incidentally, true Nickel Creek fans aren’t likely to find “The Blind Leaving the Blind” at all off-putting, inaccessible or even unfamiliar.

How to Grow a Band

U.S.-U.K.

Production: An Intl. Film Circuit (in U.S.) release of a Shaftway Prods. production. Produced by Michael Bohlmann, Mark Meatto. Executive producers, Dan Algrant, Bert Keely. Directed by Mark Meatto.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Meatto; editors, Meatto, Purcell Carson; sound, Richard Bock; associate producers, Ruth Oxenberg, Tim Farrell. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, April 9, 2012. (In 2011 Nashville Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With: With: Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Chris Eldridge, Noam Pikelny, Greg Garrison, Paul Kowert, John Paul Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Sara Watkins.

More Film

  • Midnight Traveler review

    Film Review: 'Midnight Traveler'

    Refugees rarely get to tell their own stories, which means their stories get told for them — often inaccurately and with undue hostility. Lack of resources is one issue, but a lack of stability is another: Asylum-seekers are in a frightening state of limbo, fleeing the imminent dangers of their native countries only to suffer [...]

  • WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make

    WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make Deals if Agents are Fired

    The Writers Guild of America has authorized managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents — if the guild tells members to fire their agents on April 7. The guild’s negotiating committee notified members of the plans in a message Wednesday. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents having made [...]

  • Gone With the Wind Screening

    Film News Roundup: 'Gone With the Wind' Sets Event Cinema Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Gone with the Wind” sets a new record, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is acquired, and Tracy Oliver signs with Topic Studios. EVENT CINEMA RECORD The 80th anniversary release of “Gone with the Wind” has grossed $2.23 million in six nationwide screenings on four dates — a record as the [...]

  • Made in Abyss - Journey’s Dawn

    Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’

    It’s a Herculean effort to take a multi-volume manga like author Akihito Tsukushi’s “Made in Abyss,” adapt it into a popular anime television series, and then compress the show into a coherent feature (technically, two movies), but the folks at Sentai Filmworks have done just that. Part one, “Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn,” will screen [...]

  • HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market

    HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market Winners

    Eighteen prizes were presented on Wednesday afternoon at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The project market sits alongside FilMart as part of the Entertainment Expo in Hong Kong. “Wong Tai Sin Assassination” to be directed by Wong Hoi and produced by Derek Kwok Tsz-kin, was named the winner of [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Makes Concession on Film Financing in Agent Talks

    The Writers Guild of America has made a concession in film financing in its negotiations with Hollywood talent agents — the second in six weeks of talks. WGA West executive director David Young said Wednesday that it had made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a revamped [...]

  • Noah Centineo He-Man

    Noah Centineo to Play He-Man in 'Masters of the Universe' Reboot

    From a boy (who’s loved) to He-Man. Noah Centineo is in talks to take on the superhero in Sony Pictures and Mattel Films’ “Masters of the Universe.” Brothers Adam and Aaron Nee are directing the reboot. More Reviews Film Review: 'Midnight Traveler' Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ Mattel Films is partnering with Sony [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content