Lisa Rovner’s “Sisters with Transistors” (Metrograph Pictures-Anna Lena Films-Willow Glen Films, 85 min.) states its theme right up front: “Sometimes women get forgotten from history.” Rovner’s documentary aims to jog the memory. When I was a kid, the musicians exploring synthesized music that got all the ink in “Rolling Stone” were all dudes like Pete Townsend, Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman.
Rovner’s new film, playing at Cornell Cinema on Sept. 8 at 7:15 p.m. with a post-screening panel discussion, features vintage stock and TV footage and the voices of women synth composers and experimentalists like Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani, Clara Rockmore, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, Bebe Barron and Wendy Carlos. Narrated by Laurie Anderson, who blazed her own musical trail in the ‘80s, the film is packed with archival material of these pioneers hooking up funky analog keyboards with endless cables to patch bays and recorders, preserving their brave new sounds, melodies and otherworldly squeaks and sqwonks.
Some of them have gone on to score films and commercials, while others are proudly Avant Garde and experimental; “Sisters with Transistors” tells a fascinating group story.
I’m a terrible painter, so I always found the eerily chill dude with the perm on PBS to be a fascinating persona. But there was something about the happy tree-painting Bob Ross that made me wonder… I mean, everyone has a dark side. Joshua Rofé’s upsetting doc “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed” (Netflix, 2021, 92 min.) finds that darkness.
Simply put, Ross developed his patented “wet on wet” rapid-fire painting technique because he loved to paint and because it made him happy. Then his business interests were put in the hands of greedy people who kept trying to freeze Ross out of his own company. The PBS series spawned a huge industry of DVDs, videos and all manner of painting supplies, and to this day, none of Ross’ family sees a penny from any of his empire. (Many people approached to speak on the record declined for fear of being sued by those who control Ross’s business.)
Some years back when I was looking around at Hobby Lobby, I saw they were offering a Bob Ross painting workshop with some artist trained in the Ross technique. At the time, I was sorry that I missed the workshop. Now having seen the truth about the whole thing, I’m glad I didn’t spend my money learning the Bob Ross method, given that Ross’ family sees no percentage.
It seemed like just days after I finished reading Keith Richards’ autobiography “Life” that I learned that Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts passed away at the age of 80. While we wait to see what happens with the Stones, Mark Lo’s “Count Me In” (Netflix, 2021, 81 min.) is a cool documentary about the art of percussion.
The doc is divided up into sections, with drummers like Stewart Copeland and Topper Headon telling tales of their experiences learning how to play drums. There are also sections that pay tribute to the greats like Ringo Starr, John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Art Blakey and Keith Moon, not to mention chapters dissecting classic songs with great drum tracks like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Who Are You.”
I’m not that knowledgeable about the finer points of rhythm, so this was a fascinating immersion.
Recommended: “The Protégé” at Regal Stadium 14.
RIP Charlie Watts (“Gimme Shelter,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together”)
RIP Ed Asner (“JFK,” “Elf,” “Up”)