Local record label Drag City likes movies as 'confrontatory' as its music

January 26, 2012

Toward the end of the film Dragonslayer, main character Josh "Skreech" Sandoval - a superb practitioner of the SoCal, slacker-skater-dude lifestyle - describes his ideal world: Things are pretty much the same, but everyone is frozen. That way he can have his run of the place - going in and out of people's houses, eating their food - in a word, freeloading. It's a funny and slightly heartbreaking view of the future, since freeloading everday is pretty much what Skreech does already.

A freeze frame view of the world also propels director Tristan Patterson's approach to this documentary, which screened Wednesday night at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. Afterwards Patterson was beamed in via Skype for a bit of audience Q & A. He said his aim was not a full-blown "life and times" of Skreech but a film about the moment as it unfolds in Skreech's life and in front of Patterson's camera.

To some, that life sucks. One young man in the audience, who said he was from Downey, Calif., said the film was "BS" and gave an inaccurate view of his home state. Others in the crowd - a decent turn-out for a Wednesday winter night - seemed to connect with Skreech, who tries, fails, and falls, over and over again - a pretty painful thing to watch when he's skateboarding the steep sides of an abandoned swimming pool.

That sense of trying but failing in a rapidly changing landscape was the kick in the pants that launched local music label Drag City into the film distribution business to begin with, as they tried to confront the declining profitability of the record industry. Dragonslayer is the label’s second foray into films - their first was Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. Drag City sales director Rian Murphy doesn’t think they’re deliberately drawn to tales of "f*&@ed up losers," but they do like films that are "confrontatory" and that "put the onus on the audience to think their way out of a situation that isn’t very comfortable for them."

But are movies –especially challenging independent ones - a safe bet? Thus far, Murphy says that "nothing really makes money for us the way records do," and even though the label at one point considered running a movie house Murphy thinks "you can [show] the greatest films in the world to an audience who is absolutely copacetic with your mindset but you won’t make any money unless you sell the popcorn." (The label has no current plans to do so, although they announced this week they will sell Bonnie Billy Blend Kona Rose, a custom coffee from long-time Drag City artist Will Oldman.)

Favoring curation over concessions means staying the course while moving into the home distribution market, "at which point profitability expands," according to Murphy. Like Dragonslayer’s antihero Skreech, the label is just going with the flow and making connections. Murphy says after Trash Humpers "it’s not as if [we] walked and then we ran. We walked and then we rested and then [Dragonslayer] came along."

There are currently no plans for a second run in Chicago, though the label is exploring a potential pay per view scenario.