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The Residents: 'Theory of Obscurity' - Reel Music Festival

By TOM D'ANTONI // Why? Who? What for? Forty years of delightful, scary incomprehensibility revealed.

Saturday, January 16, 9:30pm as part of Northwest Film Center's Reel Music Festival. Tickets here.

If you’ve ever wanted to know who comprises the famed anonymous band, which has not revealed the identities of its members in the forty years of its existence…

SPOILER: You’ll find out.

Not that the film Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents, explicitly tells you. But you’d have to be a dope not to see through their decades-long ruse.

Filmmaker Don Hardy interviews several people who are identified as representing the Cryptic Corporation. It’s them. Do I have proof? No. Nobody’s on trial for anything, and by now it’s not even important that they keep their identities secret. It’s merely charming.

It’s also not what’s important about The Residents, anyway. Hardy tries to explain their history, why certain famous people love them (Penn Jillette, Jerry Harrison, Les Claypool of Primus, Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening and members of Neurosis, Henry Cow and Ween), why they did what they did and why they’re still doing it, but when it comes to explaining what exactly they have to say, what they’re about...he’s less successful.

They are satirists, of course. But they have created their own universe of perversity. Not sexual perversity, but a view that life, itself is a perverse act.

They make us laugh at the hell of existence. If you don’t think that existence is either laughable or a perverse hell, you may be one of those who run screaming from the Residents. On the other hand, if you accept these tenets, embrace them, you’ll have a horrifyingly merry old time.

They are accessible on many other levels, of course; as mere absurd figures playing strange music, for one. To many (most?) they are incomprehensible.

For me, and I own around twenty albums of theirs, they represent the bad acid trip that scares the living fuck out of you…while at the same time you’re aware that these hallucinations are your own. Feeling lost in strange images and sound and knowing their coming from your own mind.

Yes, the Residents are an art drug.

If I had to explain the Residents to you, words wouldn't work. If you get it, you probably already have your tickets to see this film. It is best seen with some history of listening to their music.

The members themselves? Without their eyeball masks or other trappings of obscurity, it’s as if you didn’t really want them to be normal humans. I’ve interviewed Hardy Fox a couple of times, completely convinced that I was talking with one of the real Residents. I played along as he talked in third person about the ensemble.

Didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. The moment you hear Homer Flynn’s voice in the film, it is obvious that he’s one of the guys singing.

The Residents have had a profound effect on my creative life. I don’t need to know who they are. Their obscurity is irrelevant. I’m glad filmmaker Hardy has put their history in order, although you never know exactly what it is they want you to believe.

Doesn’t matter. The film will fill in gaps you didn’t know existed.

No one is indifferent to the Residents. It’s impossible.

Hello, Dolly. Hello, Dolly, Hello, Dolly. Hello.

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