Gillian and Monroe Grisman are nearing the end of a five-year journey that Gillian says has left them “exhausted, bleary-eyed and pretty much broke.“
For the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival on Friday night at the CineArts at Sequoia Theatre, the siblings are set to realize the fruits of that struggle as they unveil Village Music: Last of the Record Stores, their documentary on John Goddard’s legendary downtown Mill Valley music shop that aptly went out with a raucous round of all-star performances in September 2007. The film’s premiere will be followed by a “Village Music All-Stars” concert at the Sweetwater Music Hall, another screening in San Rafael on Oct. 8 and Goddard’s annual Hi De Ho Show on Oct. 12.
“It’s all pretty great for my ego - I can’t deny that,” says Goddard, who bought the shop in 1968 after working there as a teenager and built it into a packed-to-the-gills shrine of American music.
But before the Grismans get to celebrate their film, the record store it honors and the man who built it, they fittingly have more work to do. Director Gillian has been racing between her home in Novato and a pair of the Bay Area’s top post-production houses to get the film ready to pop visually and sonically. Meanwhile, producer Monroe, a former Village employee and veteran Bay Area musician, has been raising money to make it all happen.
“I feel like I’m going 90 miles per hour to the finish line here and just hoping that all the wheels stay on,” Gillian Grisman says. “I get overwhelmed on a daily basis. But I’m thrilled. This is the culmination of an incredible journey.”
The film spans nearly five decades and uses a slew of video from Goddard’s massive collection. That includes 18 uninterruped musical performances from Village’s annual anniversary parties at the original Sweetwater and other events. And it even includes “home movies from when I was a little kid,” says Goddard, who served as a producer on the film and helped the Grismans gather source material.
As a result, the formats of the source material vary widely and the content is often far from the kind of high definition, cinema-ready quality movie-goers expect today.
Enter San Francisco’s Barbary Post on color correction of the film and Berkeley Sound Artist’s lead sound designer James LeBrecht, who is mixing the sound.
“You feel like you’re in the room with Little Jimmy Scott or Pops Staples, like you’re in the Sweetwater 25 or 30 years ago,” Grisman says of LeBrecht’s music mix of the film. “It was important to us that people felt transported by these musical performances. That doesn’t happen in a film very often.”
All of that has required more money for a film that has already received overwhelming community support to the tune of $100,000 from angel investors and via a successful Kickstarter campaign. The Grismans are still looking for around $15,000 to make sure the film is ready to use MVFF35 as a launching pad to take it to festivals across the country, including music-heavy ones like Austin, Texas-based South by Southwest in March.
“We’re here at the end and desperately and actively seeking funds to pay for these finishing costs,” Grisman says.
While the Grismans, the grown children of mandolinist David Grisman and entertainment industry vets in their own right, are thrilled to show their film in the community that birthed it, they say the response beyond Mill Valley, Marin and the Bay Area will dictate its ultimate success. The story of Village Music is a Mill Valley story, they say, but it digs into Village’s place in the larger history of American music. The kind of sonic temples built by obsessive curators like Goddard largely don’t exist anymore, Gillian Grisman says.
As Tam Valley actor Peter Coyote says in the film, “John is like the gatekeeper of everything that produced what was best about America in the last 50 years.”
“This is about what is said to be one of America’s greatest contributions to the world: American popular music,” Grisman says. “It’s the preservation of recorded music and the value of that for a community as a pastime.”
Grisman says she was cognizant of past modern music documentaries that dwelled on the negative impact of the Internet and digital music on recorded music and tried not to get mired in that fair but ultimately an unsatisfying argument.
“We all know that’s the case,” she says. “Why not show people what the value of recorded music is and that you can still have that experience? Having those visceral memories of buying an album and playing it on a great sound system are going to shape who you are.”
The story isn’t limited to music, with mom and pop bookstores at the blunt end of the same transition and the value of tastemakers like Goddard replaced by a social media-driven, everything-at-your-fingertips Internet culture.
“The thing about Village was that I carried everybody,” Goddard says. “It wasn’t just a rock n roll store or a jazz store. I wanted the Andy Williams fans to have a place to go to as well as the David Bowie fans. That doesn’t happen much anymore. If the film does anything at all, it’ll be a reminder of not necessarily what used to be, but maybe what should be.”
In the final months before Goddard closed Village Music, the Grismans filmed “almost anything resembling an event” at the store, Goddard says. They also rallied a who’s who of musical legends to share their thoughts on Village Music in interviews with the likes of B.B. King, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, Sammy Hagar, Bob Weir, Ry Cooder and DJ Shadow.
The time that has passed between those frenetic months and the eve of MVFF35, which kicks off Thursday night, have already brought other rewards. After her unexpected move back to Marin from New York City in 2007 to do the film, Gillian Grisman reconnected with her former high school sweetheart Justin Barton. The pair “fell in love on the spot for the second time and got married eight months later and now we have two sons,” she says.
For now, however, there’s the rush of adrenaline that comes with getting everything ready for the big night. That includes stalwart keyboardist Austin DeLone, who was one of the longtime regulars at Goddard’s anniversary parties and has been booking the concert with drummer Scott Mathews and keyboardist Jonathan Korty.
Organizers have been silent on special guests, but with the likes of Costello and Nick Lowe in town for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, Bay Area faves like Boz Scaggs and Bonnie Raitt and a slew Mill Valley vets like Weir, Lewis and Hagar, there’s no shortage of possibilities.
“It’s gonna be big fun,” DeLone said. “It’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”
“There is a time when I never thought it would happen,” Goddard admits. “Gillian and Monroe have done an amazing job at making this all a reality.”
The 411: Village Music: Last of the Record Stores screens Friday, Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the CineArts at Sequoia Theatre, and the Village Music All-Stars concert at the Sweetwater Music Hall follows. The film also screens Monday, Oct. 8 at the Rafael Film Center and again for Kickstarter donors on Oct. 15. Go to MVFF35’s website for more info and to buy tickets.