Antenna tells the story of the titular rock club, once located at the corner of Madison and Avalon in Midtown, where so many culturally left-of-center Memphians in the '80s and '90s found their voices and each other. Along the way, we get glimpses of early alternative/punk/new wave acts such as the Panther Burns, the Modifiers, and Calculated X and see the rise of the city's signature '90s bands, the Grifters and Oblivians.
The doc situates the Antenna as a key part of a growing national indie-rock network via interviews with major figures such as R.E.M.'s Mike Mills, Minutemen's Mike Watt, and Black Flag's Greg Ginn. And it takes a great detour into the all-ages hardcore scene that grew up around the club in the late '80s and early '90s.
As a tour of an essential local subculture, Antenna compares well to the recent pro-wrestling doc Memphis Heat. After this local premiere, look for Antenna to return with a longer theatrical run next spring. Which is good, because with advance tickets sold out, you may have a tough time getting into this one. But, if you can't get into the screening but still want in on the Antenna action, you can check out the screening's after party at the 1884 Lounge at Minglewood Hall, featuring a couple of figures who are prominent in the film. A new version of Memphis proto-punks the Modifiers, with original guitarist Bob Holmes backed some younger Memphis musicians will be joined by Antenna bouncer and punk-scene fixture Angerhead. Doors will open at 10 p.m., with a $5 cover.
The festival retrospective of Memphis filmmaker Ira Sachs begins tonight with his breakout second feature, Forty Shades of Blue (Studio on the Square, 6:45 p.m.), an insider's appraisal of a certain strand of Memphis culture that features terrific lead performances from Rip Torn (playing a mash-up of Sam Phillips, Jim Dickinson, and Sachs' father) and Russian actress Dina Korzun. Forty Shades of Blue won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the same year in which Craig Brewer completed an unlikely Memphis double-dip by winning the audience award for Hustle & Flow. (Check out our original cover profile on Sachs and review from the film's initial release.)
Also of local note is the program Short Films #2: Hometowners (Playhouse on the Square, 9:15 p.m.), in which noted Memphis filmmakers Mike McCarthy (Goddamn Godard), Edward Valibus Phillips (Bad Bikes), and the team of G.B. Shannon and Ryan Parker (Pretty Monsters), among others, will showcase new work.
Actor/filmmaker Alex Karpovsky (Sleepwalk With Me, HBO's Girls) returns to Indie Memphis with the competition feature Red Flag (Circuit Playhouse, 7 p.m.), which my colleague Chris Davis highlighted in this week's paper as “inside-out buddy/road film … takes all the elements of an Oxygen Channel weeper — bad romance, good hugs, self-help, and weird homeopathy — and turns them into a funny, character-driven romp through the peaks and valleys of self-obsession. Mostly valleys.”
The night will end with a trio of high-profile showcase features showing roughly concurrently, which could make for some tough viewing decisions.
Everyone I know who's seen The Comedy (Circuit Playhouse, 9:30 p.m.), a nervy Brooklyn-set feature from writer-director Rick Alverson, came away impressed. The film, which debuted at Sundance, stars comedian Tim Heidecker as Swanson, an aimless, poorly behaved trust-funder in what promises to be a merciless — and not necessarily humorous — generational portrait.
Following the interactions among members of a famous string quartet, A Late Quartet (Studio on the Square, 9:30 p.m.) boasts a terrific cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and Wallace Shawn.
And Nobody Walks (Studio on the Square, 9:45 p.m.), which director Ry Russo-Young co-wrote with Girls star and creator Lena Dunham, follows a young would-be filmmaker (Olivia Thirlby) who causes problems in the marriage of a couple (John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt) with whom she's staying.