Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Once I Was...

I will never forget the moment I first heard Jeff Buckley's sweet yet complex voice in Sydney. From that moment on, I searched for all of his music, eventually stumbling upon his father's. I am sure that statement would make him haunt my dreams again - but Jeff, it's true for so many.  And besides, your father's music played the role of being the soundtrack to the very first roadtrip I took with the man who is now my husband. You have played such an important part of my life.

When I heard that a "bio-pic" of Jeff and his father was being filmed, I was so skeptical. I am not usually a fan of bio pics. Also, what possible story could you tell about a man who didn't really know his famous father?

A little background for those who are not familiar. Tim Buckley was a musician who rose to fame in the 60s. You can try and classify him as folk, but his influences showed in his later works - funk, psychedelic and rock. He made nine studio albums and other live recordings -- all before he died at the age of 28. In 1966, at the age of 19 his son Jeff was born but he rarely saw him, as he and Jeff's mother divorced.

Fast forward to 1991. You're the son of famous singer and someone asks you to perform at a memorial concert in honor of a father you've met twice. You don't sing his songs but you bear an uncanny resemblance to him. Curiosity, doing the right thing, uncertainty - who knows what Jeff must have been thinking.

That is where the director Daniel Algrant gets involved. Because Jeff sadly passed in 1997, there was no recantation of the event or what feelings were behind the performance. So, how do you take the story  of a very famous son who is conflicted about his father's legacy and make it believable?

In the summer of 2012, signs for filming went up for Greetings From Tim Buckley  at St. Ann's Church. Wow, I thought, this must be about the Tim Buckley memorial as well. Ok, I was starting to give the movie a chance. I began to research Penn Badgley, the actor made famous from Gossip Girls, who was picked to play the role. I was a little dismayed - I just could not see it happening to appease so many loyal fans.

The chance to see the premiere of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival - would not be missed. I chatted with some people in the crowd. Some where Penn Badgley fans, others Jeff fans. I waited and wondered how I would walk out of their feeling since I walked in a skeptic.

St. Anns Church Today
If you weren't a Tim Buckley fan before the film, chances are you will be when you leave the theatre. The story of Jeff and his father is told beautifully and cleverly through the Memorial Concert at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn. The invitation to play of course stirs emotion in Jeff, but that emotion is played through flashbacks of his famous father's start in music.

Eveything but the concert itself is semi fiction, a genius way of telling what Jeff must have gone through preparing to play the concert. The story is woven between 1991 and 1966 without seeming too wrought with flashbacks. Most of the music is Tim Buckley, except for two scenes: One that  involves Tim watching Charles Mingus perform in the village following a night of his own performance at Cafe Wha? The second is the ending when Jeff (actually Penn) sings Lilac Wine ( a song Jeff used on his debut album, Grace).

As Jeff struggles with the memory of a father who was absent most of his life, Tim struggles with being s lost soul in a seemingly loveless marriage. The buildup to the concert is essentially taking the viewer to the point where Jeff Buckley became a blip on the radar. When people recognized that he wasn't Tim Buckley's son, but that he was Jeff Buckley happened that day in 1991 in that church. Jeff walked out of his father's shadow.

I said I was doubtful about anyone playing Jeff. Penn Badgley proved me wrong. He captured the essence of Jeff  between the quirkiness, the mannerisms that were uncanny and the way he was able to turn his voice into the instrument that Jeff had. I was able to ask Penn,Daniel, and Anthrax's Frank Bello  if they studied the photographs of Jeff that Merri Cyr had taken over the years that she worked with him. They both said they had seen some of her pictures but didn't focus on mimicing. It truly was as if they had taken her photographs and brought them to life.

The highlight for all was listening to an audience member state the following: I knew Jeff and I knew Tim and I was at the concert. He went onto say how he appreciated the liberties that they had taken with the film because it told the story beautifully.

 For me, as a fan who knows the Jeff and Tim story,and knows who all the characters were, it was a surprisingly great film. For those who don't know the ins and outs and back story, I would be curious as to what they thought. Is it necessary to know who Gary Lucas is and how important he would become in Jeff's life?

Jeff and his father deserved to have a film this beautiful, musical and honestly told. Walking out of the theatre, I  began to think that this was probably the longest that Jeff and Tim had ever spent together.

                                         Tim Buckley - Once I Was

                                   Jeff Buckley 1991- Tribute to Tim Buckley - Once I Was

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