Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rocktober: 'Hype!' (1996)

It takes 35 minutes of Doug Pray's grunge documentary Hype! before Nirvana makes an appearance, and that's not a flaw: Pray diligently lays out the history of the Seattle music scene before diving into the grunge frenzy of the early '90s brought on by Nirvana, and indeed the hype of the title is less important to him than the genuine community in the city's music scene that existed before the manufactured attention. Hype! was made while grunge was still near the height of its popularity, so Pray doesn't really get a chance to reflect back on what it meant over the long term, even though some of his interview subjects are already lamenting a sort of lost innocence. Instead he shows clearly how the music scene in Seattle was stranger and more diverse than the mainstream media gave it credit for, and how its initial underdog status contributed to the creative freedom that allowed it to become an international sensation.

Pray interviews Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden's Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil, but many of the most high-profile players in the grunge movement don't show up except in performance footage (no one from Nirvana or Alice in Chains speaks on camera). While that might seem like a shortcoming at first, it allows Pray to open up his movie to the beloved Seattle bands that never achieved huge success, or the ones that were swept up in a major-label signing bonanza only to be unceremoniously tossed aside. There's some pretty great performance footage of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana, but it's just as fascinating to see performances from all the obscure Seattle bands you may have never heard of, which give a great sense of the camaraderie within the scene.

Given the time frame in which it was made, Hype! could easily have been a quickie grunge cash-in of the type that Pray mocks in the movie (the story of how a Sub Pop employee made up a whole set of grunge "slang" for a New York Times reporter is great). Instead the movie exhibits a genuine love for the Seattle music scene almost in spite of how big it got, and a healthy skepticism about the grunge phenomenon that never turns into cynicism. Even though much of it is outdated now, Hype! is still one of the definitive accounts of the alt-rock of the '90s.


Pj Perez said...

Loving this series. Lots of movies to add to my Netflix queue. Keep it up, sir!

Josh said...

Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying it.