It’s standard practice — or, at the very least, good manners — to know something about your documentary subjects before you spend months on the road with them. But don’t tell Todd Phillips that. ”I had heard the name, but I had no idea who Phish were,” laughs the director of ”Road Trip,” who shot his smart, silly rockumentary on the band between 1997 and ’98. ”I was thinkin’, These guys don’t have the money to do a movie…. Whoops!”
They did, of course — the four guys in Phish are among America’s stealth multimillionaires — and Phillips ended up tagging along with the band’s endless touring caravan. (Phish had fallen for the director after watching his 1993 punk rock documentary, ”Hated”; once Phillips got a chance to hear their music, the affection became mutual.) The result is Phillips’ often hilarious ”Bittersweet Motel,” which debuts around the country Aug. 25.
The director trailed Phish from rehearsals in Vermont through their ’97 and ’98 tours, stitching together interviews, behind the scenes tomfoolery, and footage from shows in Europe, New York City, and the band’s 1997 festival the Great Went, which drew 70,000 people to tiny Limestone, Maine. The final product records the breezy high jinks of a Phish tour, from naked fans to goofing around with .357 Magnums to riffing on bad press — mainly in the form of a supposed EW concert pan that was actually published in the Indianapolis Star.
”It’s a throwback to the rock & roll movies of the ’70s,” explains the director, who had total creative control, because, he says, ”[the band] respected a fellow artist.” Which means don’t expect volumes on the group’s history — it only gets a cursory treatment — or their legendary fans: ”The fans are easy targets and we weren’t making ‘Tie-Died,”’ he sniffs.
”There are so many bad rock movies with bands hanging out, talking about themselves, and live footage. Which is all this movie is — but it works,” laughs keyboardist Page McConnell. ”We exist in the post-”Spi¨nal Tap” era. You don’t want to look like Tap on the screen!” Then again, Phish does have an opus known as ”Gamehendge”… bring on the dancing druids!
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