When filmmaker Gorman Bechard first saw The Replacements, it was at New Haven’s Toad’s Place bar back in 1983, where the now legendary rock band was opening for R.E.M. To say Bechard was not impressed at the time would have been a major understatement.
“They were the worst band I’d ever seen in my life,” he recalls in a phone interview with the Wheel
. “They were so bad we turned our backs to them and started talking to each other through the whole show.”
Some time later, Bechard walked into his local record store and—on a complete whim—picked up a 12’ inch of “I Will Dare,” the opening track from what would become The Replacement’s magnus opus Let It Be
. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thirty years later, Bechard is not only an avid Replacements fan, but he’s also completed a love-letter to the band in the form of a documentary entitled "Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements." On April 12, Berchard will present a screening of the film at Atlanta’s Earl, followed by a Q&A session.
The project initially began life as a more straightforward documentary of the band by filmmaker Hansi Oppenheimer. Logistics soon forced Oppenheimer to give up on the project and hand it over to Berchard, who had previously served as one of the documentary’s talking heads. Not happy with the film’s direction, Berchard scrapped the footage and started over.
Presented as a kind of visualized oral history of the band, "Color Me Obsessed" consists of a series of interviews with everyone from the band’s associates (Twin/Tone founder Peter Jesperson, Tim
producer Tommy Ramone, former soundman Bill MacLeslie, copatriots Grant Hart and Greg Norton of Husker Dü ) to an array of fans ranging from musicians (The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn, members of Good Charlotte) to actor/writers (Tom Arnold and “One Tree Hill” creator Mark Schwahn) to rock critics (Robert Christgau) to anonymous fans(the film dubs one interviewee “basic middle-aged family guy”). Together, these interviews present a kaleidoscope history of the band that’s both extensively thorough and highly personalized.
There is, of course, one big elephant in the room—neither the band’s living members nor their music actually appear in the film.
According to Berchard, this approach arose from a desire to avoid the trappings of the conventional, VH1 “Behind the Music”-type documentary. A novelist and narrative filmmaker by trade, Berchard sought a way to make the film that would interest him as a storyteller.
“I started thinking, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I believe in The Replacements,’” he explains. “Yet, other people believe in God without seeing or hearing him. I think people would do the same for the Replacements.”
Besides the obvious monetary and logistical benefits, Berchard’s felt his unusual approach to constructing a rock documentary was keeping in spirit with a band whose members frequently skirted rules, often sabotaging their own chances at success in the process.
“This is a band that shot a stereo for their first [music] video at a time when a video would have put them on the map,” he says, referring to The Replacements infamous video for “Bastards of Young.” “If they had done a ‘Losing My Religion’ they would have been the one with hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. This was a band that always spit in the face of convention, so it was really in every way, shape and form, the perfect way to do a film about them.”
The diversity of individuals present in the film in turn provides a variety of differing opinions. While many remember the band’s drunk and disorderly performances with great fondness, others—such as actor Jeff Corbett—saw the band’s relentless partying and constant fighting as a waste of potential.
Whatever the case, Berchard believes that this tension and debauchery were inherent to the band’s identity.
“If you take [that tension and animosity] away from the band, it’s not the same band,” he says. “The drinking was as organic to the band as the quality of the songwriting or the wonderful chaos of Bob [Stinson]’s guitar. If they were a sober band, we probably wouldn’t be talking about them. They so defined what rock and roll should be and what’s so missing from [it] today— that complete chaos of not knowing what you’re going to get, this wonderful f--k you attitude. That’s rock and roll.”
Besides acting as a gift to Replacements fans, Bersharch also hopes "Color Me Obsessed" will encourage the uninitiated to look into the band’s discography.
“I would love for a lot of people to know about them, especially anyone who loves rock and roll,” he says. “If you love Nirvana, you have to go back and listen to the Replacements and Husker Dü because there is no Nirvana without those band…If you listen to a rock band now and you don’t know who The Replacements or Husker Dü are now, it’s sort of like being an African-American baseball player and not knowing who Jackie Robinson is. You have no clue about history and it’s really sad.”
Besides traveling with the film, Berchard is currently splitting his time between several different projects. He’s completed a documentary on the band Archers of Loaf, which premiers in June, and is developing a documentary about famous pizza places in New Haven. Inspired by his interview with Grant Hart, Berchard has also begun making a documentary on the Husker Dü drummer/songwriter.
“If I could just clone myself, I would make one of me that could just watch a movie or something,” he laughs.
Long considered one of the most overlooked and underappreciated bands of the 1980s (if not of all time), The Replacements now finally have a documentary to call their own. And the fans—excuse the shameless play on words —can’t hardly wait.
— Contact Mark Rozeman.