John Mellencamp performs during the Fun Trio Tour in 2009. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)
For someone who's never directed a movie before, Kurt Markus sure has the eye of a filmmaker. His past as a successful photographer, whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and in ad campaigns for BMW and Nike, serves him extremely well in the evocative documentary "John Mellencamp: It's About You," co-directed by Markus' son, Ian.
In 2009, the Markus men, armed with Super 8 and still cameras, followed singer-songwriter John Mellencamp on a concert tour and on album recording sessions across the South and Midwest. Although they kept a respectful distance from Mellencamp (a kind of you-do-your-thing-I'll-do-mine arrangement was seemingly struck), the Markuses nonetheless captured a unique intimacy with the gruffly charismatic rocker.
The result is an unhurried, visually compelling look at a man and his music — as well as of a bygone America filled with shuttered downtowns and the ghosts of such late musicians as Elvis Presley and blues pioneer Robert Johnson. For Mellencamp fans, there are stirringly rendered performances of such hits as "Pink Houses," "Small Town" and, especially, "Crumblin' Down."
Ultimately, Kurt Markus, whose low-key narration punctuates the journey, seems to have learned as much about himself as about his titular subject — while enjoyably enlightening viewers about both.
"John Mellencamp: It's About You." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.