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Allison Anders and Kurt Voss keep the music playing

The Los Angeles music scene has figured prominently in the filmmakers' careers. 'Strutter' completes a trilogy begun with 1987's 'Border Radio.'

April 13, 2013|By Steve Appleford
  • Filmmakers Allison Anders and Kurt Voss have finished the third movie in their trilogy, "Strutter."
Filmmakers Allison Anders and Kurt Voss have finished the third movie in… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

For Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, making "Strutter" was like going back decades to when they were UCLA film students and guerrilla tactics were essential survival skills. One day on their new micro-budget production, Anders stood in the street to prevent traffic from interfering with a scene being shot outside a Los Angeles record store.

Anders has directed dozens of films and TV episodes over the last 25 years, and even with a small budget, someone else is usually filling that particular role on the asphalt. "I barely know the person's name who does that," Anders, 58, laughed.

"Strutter" completes a trilogy of dramatic films set in the Los Angeles music scene and co-directed by Anders and Voss that began with 1987's "Border Radio" and continued with 1999's "Sugar Town." This time, they had Kickstarter's help in raising $25,000 to tell the story of a new generation of musicians struggling with modest ambition and imperfect personal lives.

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In budget and attitude, Voss says "Strutter" is like "a second first film." After a year on the international festival circuit, the 86-minute, black-and-white, hi-def movie has its L.A. premiere Monday at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theater.

"There's kind of a 'put on a show, kids' energy," said Voss, 49, sitting with Anders on her back patio in Altadena. "We really were thinking about 'Border Radio' — revisiting that film, for which there was no script," Voss explained. "In this movie too, we were largely making it up by the seat of our pants. It's a unique way to make a movie. The dialogue and the dialectic of it for me was really the fun part."

"Strutter" follows the story of Brett (Flannery Lunsford), a deeply confused, unsettled young musician who moves back home with his mother after being dumped by his girlfriend. Brett becomes only more unhinged when he realizes that his ex is now dating a musical peer and personal hero on the scene (Dante White-Aliano). Critics have been enthusiastic, with Variety calling the film a "breezy tale of Los Angeles hepcats," while the Hollywood Reporter, reviewing its screening last summer at the Munich Film Festival, called it "highly entertaining."

Music and musicians often play a significant role in the work of Voss and Anders. Voss' last project was a music documentary, "Ghost on the Highway," about the Gun Club and its late singer, Jeffrey Lee Pierce. In 1996, Anders' "Grace of My Heart" told the story of a gifted songwriter who rises from Brill Building anonymity to huge fame as a recording artist.

Anders just directed "Ring of Fire," a TV movie about June Carter Cash for Lifetime, which stars Jewel and airs May 27. Anders also blogs about Greta Garbo's surprising collection of pop and rock 'n' roll records that the director purchased at auction, and she co-founded the annual summer music-themed Don't Knock the Rock film fest in L.A.

Of her affinity for musicians, Anders says: "They're just really good stories. There's really good archetypes with musicians. They carry their persona with them forever. And then we try to mess with that a little, and find the cracks in the persona."

The cast of "Strutter" includes several local artists, including Victoria Williams, Gun Club drummer Terry Graham, Ariel Pink and Gram Rabbit's Jesika von Rabbit. The score is by Dinosaur Jr. leader J Mascis, who will perform an acoustic set at Monday's premiere.

On most days, "Strutter" was made with a crew of just four — the directors, a sound recordist and Anders' son, Ruben, on second camera. Voss was the cinematographer and turned to the new tools that have made filmmaking accessible to the masses, using as his primary camera a Canon Rebel T2i. It costs less than $600 and is normally aimed at the amateur market.

During the production, cast and crew drove into the high desert, where they shot an improvisational scene in Room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn to perform a seance for country-rocker Gram Parsons, who died there. The on-camera tributes and interactions were spontaneous and raw, as are other scenes of Brett's disintegration. "It's real vomit in the movie when the kids are sick from drink at the strip club," noted Voss of the mostly young cast. "They carried on like little hellions."

At the same time, "Border Radio" has continued to have a life far beyond anything its creators imagined. It was tough but insightful, philosophical and hilarious, starring several prominent figures from the underground music scene of the 1980s, shot in 16-millimeter black-and-white and edited by night at UCLA, which Anders and Voss attended in the mid-'80s.

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