Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz's documentary Better Than Something: Jay Reatard captures the musician, the friend, and the nonconformist who expresses directly and unabashedly his values and attitudes, informed by personal and public experiences. Better Than Something also includes Jay interviewed on radio programs, (especially interesting are a 2005 and a 2007 Netherlands show), interviews with Jay's managers, music producers and fellow musicians, and extensive footage of performances, including South by Southwest in 2007, Rennes, France in 2008, and various tours, including record store appearances.
Though the documentary is conventional in its intercutting of performance footage with interview snippets, Jay is anything but conventional. No one sugar coats their first, second and lasting impressions of Jay and his behavior. On one occasion, wanting to 'traumatize the audience,' he bit a pigeon's head off, throwing its body onto a female member, thinking it was 'kinda funny.' 'Taste is too mysterious a thing,' he says. Eating, drinking, and interacting, he's relaxed and uncensored. He describes how he works, his moods and ideas, death threats over the internet, and musical influences.
With the filmmakers, he drives to the first 'shack' he lived in and later homes, describes his father, life with his mother and sister (all three relatives appear late in the film in contemporary interviews), and his early musical forays with several bands, and albums. Visiting his Memphis neighborhoods evokes Jay's descriptions of some of his most intense, brutal moments and some hard-won humor. Finally, several of those close to him describe his early, sad death, a last chapter given affectionate attention.
For Reatard fans, Better Than Something: Jay Reatard will be a revealing and largely pleasant indulgence. For those not amenable to raw, garage rock music and the sometimes-angry young men who make it, it'd be better to wait for a more mainstream musician.
The St. Louis premiere of Better Than Something: Jay Reatard is at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, September 21st through Sunday, September 23rd. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.