Volume 94, Issue 71

Tuesday, January 30, 2001


Maestro stick to his hip-hop vision

Sugar and Spice everything but nice

Disc of the Week

Rock movie phun for Phish heads

Rock movie phun for Phish heads

Bittersweet Motel
Starring: Phish, thousands of Phish heads
Directed By: Todd Phillips

By Nina Chiarelli and Sean Taylor
Gazette Staff

Todd Philips caught Americans phishing, so he decided to bait them himself.

Coming quick on the heels America's latest rock and roll trend, director Todd Phillips takes an insiders look into the lives of four of America's hardest-working musicians.

Bittersweet Motel, starring guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell, offers fans an unbiased opportunity to hang out with Phish during parts of their 1997-98 touring schedule.

Famous for such independent films as Hated and Frat House, Phillips directs his latest work with a similar documentary perspective as he investigates the intriguing world of rock and roll music and the people who perform it.

The film opens in Rochester, New York in the fall of 1997. Showcasing their trademark high-energy shows, Phillips captures Phish performing some rocking portions of "Down with Disease" and Ween's "Roses are Free."

Unlike most rockumentaries that focus on a band's greatest moments, Bittersweet Motel provides contrasting footage, displaying the band's feeble attempts to learn the Ween ditty before it cuts to wonderfully captured moments featuring Phish on stage mastering the same song.

Phillips uses an expert eye to introduce different aspects of each band member's personality, while also allowing Anastasio to lead the audience on a fantastic trip. Obviously most comfortable in front of the camera, Anastasio seems like the main focus of the movie for Phililps, conveying the very persona of a band not driven by extreme financial gain.

It also helps lend interest and insight to some oddly funny and curiously strange backstage antics, but moreover leads viewers to the conclusion that Philips discovered quickly who had the most to say.

Although there were some fantastically shot stage scenes, the majority of the movie was more a look backstage than any type of music lesson. While some sequences were out of order, Phillips was careful to follow the natural progression of Phish's musical and geographical odyssey of that particular year.

Bittersweet Motel is successful in that it allows a closeness with Phish not seen before. Audience members may find themselves feeling like they're actually discussing motivation and talent with some of their favourite musicians.

Although some moments seem stereotypical of a rockumentary (i.e. making Anastatio read a bad review and react for the camera), there are other, far more telling scenes. One involves Anastasio relating his musical influence by explaining the significant role of the white middle-American teenager in rock and roll.

Subtly shot, this scene proves Phillips' talent lies in his ability to get his subjects to say exactly what is on their mind, while still getting their message across.

Definitely a hit, this movie may only interest Phish fans though. For example, there are a few instances when characters unfamiliar to any regular audience appear with the band and add some confusion. It is also often unclear where any one performance is on the tour schedule in relation to other performances.

Despite its flaws, most should enjoy this film and hopefully want to take up phishing themselves.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000