Doc NY, New York’s Documentary Film Festival, runs November 3-9. We’ve got an early peek at a few films.
For those that have never heard of Lillian Roxon, you’re not alone. Most famous for authoring the “Rock Encyclopedia,” Roxon was a strong feminist rock & roll writer who arrived in the New York rock scene from Australia in the 1960s. Immersing herself in the culture (and having sex with absolutely everybody), she made herself known in the scene not only for her raucous behavior but also for her extremely detailed and well-written articles. Eventually covering glam-rock and the various Warhol extravaganzas, Roxon came to be known as “motherly” due to her refusal to partake in drugs, her comparatively modest fashion sense, and caring nature. The work-horse attitude continued until her untimely death in the 1970s, right before punk broke. First time director Paul Clarke deserves props for pulling in her entire New York stint at about 70-75 minutes, but it’s about the only thing he deserves recognition for, as “Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon” is a music doc akin to a filler track on a mediocre album.
Throughout the movie, the question that never really dissipates is why this woman was important enough for a feature film. She very well could have been, it’s just that the moviedoes a piss-poor job of arguing her worth. In fact, her life is actually ripe with substance that could’ve easily been exploited for movie purposes. Jewish-born and avoiding persecution, her family left Italy during the dawn of fascism and moved to Australia, settling under the name Roxon. From an early age, Lillian was rebellious, her mother trying to rein her in to a more traditional and formal life. Her earliest writing gig was for the Australian magazine “Weekend,” but not long after she decided that the Australian life was no life for her. She instead became the NY correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, and also became a regular contributor to the humor mag OZ. Upon her arrival she threw her own welcoming party, inviting all of the NY bohemians, and successfully wedged herself into the gritty New York music scene. Frequenting the club “Max’s Kansas City,” which everyone this side of David Bowie frequented daily, she became a strong outspoken female figure and one of the first serious rock writers.
The brief scenes focusing on her prose showcase her talents behind the typewriter, but otherwise there’s not enough to warrant interest. It could very well be the lack of conflict or “juicy tidbits” – Roxon seemed to have had barely any sordid secrets, as she was very open about her sexual nature. The strained relationship between Linda Eastman/McCartney and Lillian is very hastily covered, to its own disadvantage. The scribe took deadly aim at Linda and Paul’s infamous band Wings with very scathing reviews due to Linda’s abandonment of her and the entire NYC scene. This could’ve provided the movie with the substance (and worth) that it so desperately needed, but it’s barely touched upon and Clarke is already onto something else just as interest peaks.
Structurally it’s a mess, a hodge-podge of interviews about Roxon or about the rock scene. Even the principal topic is completely unfocused, shifting from Lillian’s life to Alice Cooper concert memoirs without rhyme or reason. These ultimately distracting diversions from the main subject are pointless; while admittedly a tad amusing they have no place in this documentary. Maybe if the anecdotes the interviewees brought up had anything to do with Lillian or her writing, but on the worst level they’re painfully self-serving. Those who partake in the interviews are coincidentally just as unenthused when speaking, excluding the always-enjoyable Iggy Pop, who details a concert in which had to be taken to the hospital due to self-inflicted stage wounds. As for what this has to do with the ‘Mother of Rock,’ the director leaves that one up to the audience. In fact, Clarke’s amateurishness is so blatant that his inability to determine what he should or shouldn’t include is probably the only thing that will linger in the mind post-credits.
Despite Roxon’s easy-going personality and blunt writing, the movie refuses to take the cue and instead is completely by-the-numbers: talking heads, dull narration and all. The film-maker wanted to expose a new generation to a talented free spirit, but he often overlooks subject and substance. Instead he settles for a pile of interviews and still photos coupled with Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop reliving their better days. Their stories will bring a smile to the face, but it’s got nothing to do with Lillian Roxon, and “Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon” is nowhere near the homage it was meant to be. [F]