3 stars out of 5 (overall)
An irony of modern popular culture is that unique talent can often take years, or even decades, to find an audience beyond the cognoscenti - if it ever does. British singer/songwriter Nick Drake released three critically-revered records of fragile, melancholic music - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon - between 1969 and 1972, to extremely limited commercial success. Drake died in 1974, at the age of 26, from an overdose of antidepressants. In the spring of 2000, Volkswagen used a portion of the song "Pink Moon" in a television ad. Within three weeks, as many copies of Pink Moon were sold as the album had sold in its original release.
"A Place To Be: A Celebration Of Nick Drake" was part of American Cinematheque's 2007 Mods & Rockers Festival in Los Angeles. While one could easily cite suicide and premature death as the festival's overarching themes (Ian Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, et al.), celebration was more the point on this recent Friday evening (despite a surfeit of colons). "A Place To Be" began with A Skin Too Few: The Days Of Nick Drake, a brief (48 minute) documentary on Drake's life. While additional audio recordings of his have been released since his death, there is no known performance footage, and few still photographs beyond family scrapbooks - a daunting challenge for a filmmaker. A Skin Too Few creates a sympathetic and affecting, though vague, outline of the enigmatic Drake, mostly through the words of his late parents, his sister Gabrielle, and musical collaborators.
A live question-and-answer session with Gabrielle Drake, famed record producer Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Maria Muldaur, Richard Thompson, Incredible String Band), and friend/singer/writer Robyn Frederick (who did a nice job of deconstructing the lyrical and musical complexity in Drake's songs) was followed by the premiere of Their Place: Reflections On Nick Drake. This piece is actually a collection of seven short films ("homages") by different directors, each focusing on a Drake song in either the original or a new cover version. The directors include Australian heartthrob actor Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain, The Patriot), Lithuanian art filmmaker/poet/critic Jonas Mekas, and music video maker Tim Pope. But Their Place was - as you'd expect - uneven, with only a few flashes of brilliance.
The evening apparently continued at the bar next to the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (the home of the Cinematheque), but I passed on the revelry. "A Place To Be" was really an excuse for fans of Nick Drake to come together for a few hours in celebration of their muse. I wanted to be sure to draw the line before any unfortunate early morning karaoke of "Black Eyed Dog."