Coming to theatres today, Friday, April 12:
SATAN & ADAM
V Scott Balcerek
Nashville, Mountainfilm, Thin Line, Boulder, St Louis, Heartland, Calgary, Martha’s Vineyard, SF Jewish, Salem
The story of an unlikely musical duo.
Filmed on and off over the course of 20 years, this musical portrait explores the parallel stories of two musicians -one black, one white – who met on the streets of a pre-gentrification Harlem in 1986, a time of especially deep racial division in NYC. The older, black man, Mr Satan – once known as Sterling Magee, a musician who had been exploited by the record industry in the past – had long been a fixture of the neighborhood, while the younger, white man, Adam Gussow, was an Ivy League novice who chanced upon the former’s street performance and asked to join in. From there, the pair partnered up, performing together regularly, going on tour, getting a record deal, and even appearing on a U2 album. But, as recounted here, their 12 years together were not all smooth sailing, as Satan and his ever-present wife apparently struggled with mental illness, which eventually led to the dissolution of the musical partnership. Gussow pursued a career in academia, while Mr Satan vanished for a time, resurfacing in a senior care facility in Florida, where he reclaimed his Sterling Magee name and ended up having a surprising third act with music, eventually reuniting with Gussow. While the odd couple pairing, and Balcerek’s extensive longitudinal footage, makes the project compelling, its framing almost entirely from Gussow’s perspective is a strange and disconcerting choice, serving in many ways to “other” Magee, even if this wasn’t the filmmaker’s, or Gussow’s, intent.