Singer Ewan Currie in a scene from the movie. (John Barnard)
Here's the good thing about this new rock and roll documentary by Winnipeg filmmaker John Barnard: It's got a built-in narrative.
Here's the bad thing: It's got a built-in narrative.
Barnard gets a swell readymade story with The Sheepdogs, that scrappy, shaggy band from Saskatoon that won a 2011 contest to become the first unsigned band on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Read: Sheepdogs singer Ewan Currie picks some classics
Handed the opportunity of a lifetime, these four guys and their straight-up brand of neo-classic rock had to jump on it. Would they be revealed as an American Idol-style fizzle, or would they follow up with a solid album and great live performances and show themselves as the real thing?
The Sheepdogs' terrific true-life tale gives shape to Barnard's material, which mixes solid concert footage and scenes in the studio with interviews with the band members and industry insiders.
It can also make the film feel a bit over-determined. Most viewers--or anyone who took note of the 2012 Junos--will know the answer to the "will they or won't they" question.
Still, the band's Cinderella story raises some interesting questions. Barnard's not the only one looking for a narrative hook.
The film demonstrates how the 21st-century music industry runs not just on music but on media-friendly, sound-bitey stories about music. We hear about the guys going from weekday night audiences of "zero to 15," as drummer Sam Corbett sheepishly admits, to packed venues of 15,000, in less than a year. Everyone in the film is self-consciously aware of the underdog-makes-good angle.
Barnard doesn't get super-up-close and personal. This isn't meant to be a behind-the-scenes tell-all. From what we do see, following the band on a packed schedule that takes them to Memphis, Nashville, New York, Toronto (and Winnipeg), The Sheepdogs seem like grounded Canadian guys who are completely committed to their music.
The Sheepdogs' success suggests a hunger for the band's non-ironic retro rock and roll and their hairy, beige-Levi's-cords look.
And while Barnard carefully tracks how the band is breaking into the bigger American music market, the film is strongest when it speaks specifically to The Sheepdogs' prairie roots. Watch for a brief but hilarious culture clash when the fellas get a fashion makeover on Project Runway.
And you have to love the fact that Barnard interviews the band members' moms and dads. I mean, how Canadian is that?
The Sheepdogs Have At It opens at The Globe this weekend.
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Sheepdogs documentary captures band's rise to stardom