You’re Gonna Miss Me (Keven McAlester, 2005)
You’re Gonna Miss Me, which looks at the post-musical life (one cannot call it a career) of psych-rock pioneer and legendary schizophrenic Roky Erickson, is one of the most harrowing things I have ever seen on celluloid. It is also well-nigh incoherent, and since I watched it I’ve spent a good deal of time weighing whether this was intentional on the part of McAlester (The Dungeon Masters), as a kind of mirroring of Erickson’s own thought processes, or whether that even matters (as clever/possibly brilliant as the idea is). I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that it doesn’t, and that something a little more straightforward would’ve gotten the job done a lot better than this did—which I rush to add in no way mitigates the straight-up creep factor this movie produces, which is almost unheard-of in the documentary realm.
We begin with an arresting scene, in which Roky’s little brother Sumner Erickson is testifying that he, not their mother, should be Roky’s legal guardian, alleging that, basically, she’s messed him up for the past thirty-five years. Powerful stuff. We then trade off scenes of Roky’s life today with documentary bits about the rise and fall of the 13th Floor Elevators and the Aliens. (We eventually come back round to that courtroom scene towards the end of the film, after we’ve gotten to know Roky’s mother even better than we’ve gotten to know Roky.) Pretty basic documentary technique, but (a) the historical bits seem almost unfinished; there’s little snippets of interviews at the beginning with big-name folks like Patti Smith and Billy Gibbons, but those die off pretty quickly, and (b) the present-day bits featuring Roky seem as if they’re there solely to create that creeptastic atmosphere, as contrasted to the present-day bits featuring Roky’s mother, which are equally creeptastic, but at least move the story forward.
But my ultimate complaint is that the film raises a lot of questions, and then never even attempts to answer any of them. The most obvious is how much of Roky’s current state has to do with his incredible, massive drug abuse, how much has to do with the electroshock treatments he was subjected to while locked up in an asylum, and how much is genetic. (I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me you can’t watch this movie and not come away well aware that crazy runs deep in the Erickson family.) Perhaps there is no real answer, at least not a definitive one, but no one even tries. We get a lot of bitter sniping from various family members, all of which goes nowhere. Etc. There are a lot of very interesting threads to be found here, but all are left ragged and incomplete.
With a little more planning, a little more asking of the right questions, this could have been one of the great musical documentaries of all time. As it is, it’s remarkably like the music of Roky Erickson and the Aliens—a curiosity that seems earnest, but that still has someone in the background looking at how to best hook the rubes come to look at the freaks. ***
Two headed dog, two headed dog,I’m watchin’ a trailer with a two headed dog…