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Published: 2008/03/27
by Mark Burnell

Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, DeathAnd Insects

(A&E/Sundance)

Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, DeathAnd Insects, an excellent BBC-produced 2006 documentary that was shown briefly in the states on the Sundance Channel, profiles the quintessential English eccentric, Robyn Hitchcock, who is the living definition of “cult star.” Despite recording over 40 albums in the last 25 years (and a staggering three apiece in 1995 and 1996 alone), his audience never really grew beyond the fanbase of his first band, the Soft Boys. This audience, regardless of its smaller size, is insanely loyal and apparently counts many famous musicians amongst its number.

I could probably fill the entire next paragraph just listing the big names that pop up onscreen, but I won’t do that. However, I will say that it is quite odd that Hitchcock, Nick Lowe, and John Paul Jones all appear to live in the same small town— must be something in the air there. The documentary revolves around a project, called the Venus Three, which involves Hitchcock and REM’s Peter Buck, following it from initial songwriting sessions to life on the road as a real band. I’m a sucker for “behind the scenes” Rock n Roll documentaries, as long as they contain decent doses (and maybe even equal parts) of frankness and humor, and Sex, Food, DeathAnd Insects contains both in spades. Hitchcock, himself, is darkly dry, and his lyrics are totally unique. Much like Dylan, there’s no question that his vocal style takes a little getting used to, but the effort is most certainly worth it. Much of the music here is captured acoustically and in informal jams, but Hitchcock never seems to act like he’s being filmed and remains focused on the music and his fellow musicians.

The cover blurb (“features over 20 live performances”) is a little misleading, as many songs appear merely as fragments or, annoyingly, are broken up by interviews. Indeed, if I had one complaint, it’s just that this DVD simply does not feature enough music. Don’t get me wrong— the interviews are fascinating, and as a whole, the documentary is hugely entertaining; it’s just that I can’t shake the nagging certainty that there’s a wealth of other music that (probably rightfully) didn’t make it into the original documentary that should have found a home on this DVD version. The main feature is a scant 53 minutes, and the five song “work in progress” bonus feature clocks in at a little over ten minutes— ample room for a lot more music, that’s for sure. Nevertheless, when what is on the disc is so engrossing, that’s probably a minor quibble. Hitchcock fans have likely pre-ordered this release already, although it could also work very well as a starting point for the uninitiated into the gently odd world of an English national treasure.

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