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The Matches Light Up Their History With BLEEDING AUDIO (Movie Review)

Prior to taking in Chelsea Christer’s energetic and enduring documentary, Bleeding Audio, I had no awareness of the pop punk quartet known as The Matches.  Originating in Oakland in 1997 (as then, The Locals), the group hit the road hard. While finding success in their shows, signing to a record label and releasing 3 albums, they were never able to commercially take off as many industry scouts might have hoped. Continuing the push for 12 years, The Matches finally lost their spark and went their separate ways in 2009. With time passed, they found themselves rekindling and putting together some reunion shows years later to surprising resurgence. Bleeding Audio takes us through this frantic journey with the band, the people who supported them, collaborated with them and their fans.

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VH1’s Behind The Music surged in popularity around the time The Matches were coming into form and growing their brand. That episodic documentary program showcased some of the biggest bands and musical acts, iconic in stature, and dove deep into their histories. Some acts even had their story  told despite still being in the thick of public relevancy. Journey’s tale might be the pinnacle episode of that series. Their story contained everything you’d want and everything you’d come to expect. Behind The Music became a haze of monotonous tales of rising to success, drug and alcohol problems, band infighting, struggles in the studio and on the road, and so on and so forth.  There’s a through line that comes with major recording and performing acts hitting success that bleeds somewhat similar documentary storytelling.

For every dime a dozen fame stories, there are infinitely more about the ones who didn’t stand atop the mountain of glory. Those who came close, but not close enough. These chronicles find much more interesting paths, people and reflection than those of the common rock star dramatics. Those who are grateful for the opportunity, took a unique ride, saw others alongside them get their moment while eternally waiting for the spotlight to rotate over to their corner. These acts never get that attention, despite their stories providing an air of unpredictability in the field and a more realistic, down to earth story.

The Matches ended their run in 2009 as a band still hungry. Their touring constant, their creativity still innovative and exploratory with fans still turning out to watch their uncompromisingly explosive stage performances. Left standing, yet going their own ways, they managed to keep their integrity and friendships intact the whole way. Lack of commercial success led to their parting of ways, but the fact that they did it their own way in a manner that was never troublesome to others is far more a respective and impressive achievement in a historical hindsight than the platinum record on the wall that cost much of your soul to achieve.

Chelsea Christer’s documentary sweeps by in a flash. It feels its over just after it begins. Book-ending The Matches tale are loytal fans inking tattoos of their moniker and song titles. In between the fans’ permanent devotion through body art, the film starts off with a garage band of kids playing in Bosnia all the way to a heartfelt reunion almost 20 years later. Everyone sitting down to be a talking head is as admiring of the band as they are truthful about the struggles and flaws that came with them along the way. Its easy to see why industry people and fans were so eager to try and follow The Matches to success, as each member has fantastic character, innocence and a honesty about them that feels as if it never wavered.

Despite knowing the outcome, the ride and progress as The Matches continue to climb is exciting and Christer puts you in a seat to where you almost feel like that breakout is still going to happen. She does a good job of putting you in the perspective of the group during their signings and their recordings, feeling like each time that THIS is going to be what shatters the glass, only to find yourself still sitting there still hoping. Between notable performances, big names taking them under their wing or a hopeful music video, nothing seems to be able to get them over the hump. Caught in a crossroads of the music industry caught up in figuring out the digital era, the goal posts of success keep getting pushed back. Yet, gauging from their reflection and the footage available from the era, they maintained a cool head and hopeful mentality of it all.

One of the best aspects of the documentary is the breakdown of the perception of success versus the reality of the situation. In a way rarely conveyed correctly or even at all, the film nickels and dimes us all the way to showing us how the band probably would have made more money working part-time fast food jobs than touring the country and playing sell out shows every night. At one point its revealed that each member was making roughly $10 a week after all was said and done. Many a documentary would have glorified the constant gigs and life on the road, but this is one of the first ones to truly paint a realistic picture of it all. And nobody has fond memories of the situation or even a bright nostalgia for living out of vans most of their career.

I didn’t even know The Matches existed before this documentary. Now, I’m happily exposed to their music as well as stunned at the amount of respect I have for them not only as artists/creators, but as terrific human begins. There is a lot of adversity facing people in the climb to fame and fortune. It gets to people, sucks them dry, tears things apart, gets ugly. But, The Matches appear to have made it through the gauntlet without any of it. More seasoned, more experienced; sure. However, they did things their own way the whole time and they managed to still be the bright eyed optimist group they were during their 3L days as they are now, never sacrificing their friendships, their chemistry or their relationships with their fans for a simple buck. Bleeding Audio donates a pint of that sonic plasma and shows that while not always successful in the eyes of record label accountants, the passion and drive for success in the world of music doesn’t have to be harmful either.

Bleeding Audio recently took the BEST AUDIENCE AWARD at Dances with Films independent film festival, and now it is selected as the Closing Night Film for SF DocFest (September 20th)

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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