8 Mile blues

It Came From Detroit follows the Motor City rock scene's early '00s moment in the sun


There have been a number of documentaries lately reflecting a fascination with Detroit as a ruined giant, our very own (barely) living Pompeii. Local residents have made films lamenting the extreme poverty and the bungled public-corporate policies that largely created it. Non-locals, particularly those state-funded Europeans, have made others whimsically extolling the environ's pockets of reversion to agrarian culture — seeing utopian futurism there rather than a grimly comic last resort. Or they've exploited its accidental status as the world's largest open-air gallery for the aesthetics of extreme urban decay.

James R. Petix's It Came From Detroit is like none of the above. In fact the movie it most resembles in some ways is Doug Pray's 1996 Hype!, which documented the still-fresh boom and bust of grunge — a phenom you may have thought about recently given the, er, hype attendant around Nevermind's 20th anniversary. About a decade after Seattle flew the flannel flag high, Detroit too had a musical moment that conquered the nation ... or at least was supposed to.

Motor City's answer to grunge — as framed by a media finally certain it had found the ever-elusive "next Seattle" — was garage, a term that had already gained some new traction from the 1980s Paisley Underground and related '60s revivalist movements. Sporting chops barely above the Shaggs level when they started out, turbulent trio the Gories' willfully primitive abandon triggered something, igniting a DIY scene that would eventually encompass such stellar acts as the Wildbunch, the Hentchmen, the Go, Detroit Cobras, the Dirtbombs, Electric Six, and more.

The scene was primed to explode, and when the White Stripes became Cover Boy and Girl on music mags 'round the world, their improbable success seemed sure to spread. A publicity frenzy peaked in 2003, when the Stripes vs. Von Bondies "feud" reached maximum impact via Jack White's fist on Jason Stollsteimer's face. But the rough-edged, rootsy focus of Detroit's disparate new music stalled short of making further commercial inroads; while their sounds ranged from punk blues to goth bluegrass and beyond, nearly all the bands had the kind of live dynamic that can only be muted in the recording studio.

The label-signing frenzy fast over, for most it was back to the drag queen bars, bowling alleys, and coffee shops that had served as Gories venues early on, back to the lowly dayjobs (when found) and sleeping in cars when even rock bottom rent is too much. But the myriad interviewees in It Came don't seem particularly disillusioned. As more than one points out, when you're from Detroit you keep your expectations low and make music for love, because nobody's gonna become a star. Almost nobody, that is.


Thurs/5, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., $6.50-$10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF


Also from this author

  • Con and on

    Thrilling, stylish Highsmith adaptation 'The Two Faces of January'

  • Cel mates

    Mill Valley Film Festival screens vintage and innovative animated features

  • Urban decay

    A family struggles to survive in crime drama 'Metro Manila'