The Family Jams, a documentary by Kevin Barker (the man behind Currituck Co. and and on-again-off-again accompanist of Vetiver), captures the careers of the genre-fucks Devandra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, and Vetiver in their infancy on a 2004 summer tour. (The doc screens Thurs/24 as part of the Noise Pop Film Festival; check out a trailer here.)
Near the film’s beginning, Barker, in a voiceover, shares a memory of seeing large flying cockroaches that lived in his grandmother’s kitchen drawers in Hawaii. In the next scene — whodathunk? — a large cockroach appears during a show in Houston, Texas when his musical family (Banhart, Newsom, and Andy Cabic of Vetiver, among others) plays together at the show’s end. Could this link 'twixt families be made any more obvious?
The documentary also attempts to challenge the so-called limitations of the family’s categorization as folk, but fails. During a radio interview, Banhart asks Cabic, "How do you deal with being considered “folk? Do you accept the humiliation of their inaccuracy and narrow-mindedness?” And in his next breath, a (possibly intoxicated) Banhart says, “Mine is new age. You’ve got to understand, new age — it’s got a bad taste in everyone’s mouth."
He goes on: "I’m trying to make it groovy again. I’m really trying to give it some credibility. New age — that’s appropriate because it’s a combination of different things." So, the genre-defying Banhart gives himself a label. Huh.
While The Family Jams has its humorous moments, like when a shirtless Banhart enters a door that clearly says "Shoes and Shirt Required Beyond This Point," the doc's high points come courtesy of concert footage. Jammin' is what this family does best on camera. Otherwise, Barker's film is largely a slow-moving study of community, and little else.
The Family Jams
Q&A with director Kevin Barker and members of Vetiver after the screening
Thurs/24, 9 p.m., $10
1746 Post, SF