Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents
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Director: Don Hardy Jr.

Starring: The Residents, Matt Groening, Les Claypool, Pen Gillette

The Residents, for the uninitiated, are that band your weirdo friend tried to impress on you at your weakest moment – drunk, high, hungover – late at that one party.  You barely remember anything about them apart from jerky images, eyeballs in suits and dissonant but strangely soothing music; or else you’re their biggest fan and one of those people in desperate search of the next weirdest thing to impress your musically jaded friends with the sheer breadth of your taste.

In the interest of disclosure, I am that friend. I went to this film with another of my weirdo kin, who first introduced me years ago to The Residents, the members of which remain anonymous after forty years. He gleefully regaled me with Residents rumours and a long conversation about Einstürzende Neubauten (let’s just call it ‘difficult listening’) before we entered the Luna cinema, where my friend Alec – a lean redhead and musician himself – was working. Alec leaned forward conspiratorially: “Apparently they’re going to have a choir on before or something? I have to do the lights for it. Weird, man,” he said with a grimace, and my friend could have hopped with delight.

Yes, there was a choir before the show, totally unintroduced and without context, performing select Residents songs at the front of the theatre. An uncomfortable but polite silence settled over the audience as four people in suits, top hats and eyeball heads groped slowly at the air before the singers.  The audience’s simple acceptance of this might have seemed equally bizarre, but this is the Residents modus operandi: like your friend craning over your shoulder as your bleary eyes take in those same lurching eyeball men, their gentle, patient voice whispering: “Just… go with it…”

The film? It’s a great introduction to the group, whose work covers a vast array of form – film, album, musical, podcast, computer game – and Don Hardy Jr’s film is like flicking through a book on the subject with characters like Primus’ Les Claypool and Pen Gillette (one-time narrator for their stage show) providing colourful anecdotes about their own experience with the band. Bright and funny with something for both the long-term fan and the inductee, and not many can pull that one off – certainly not me in your lounge room at 2am, anyway.

3.5/5

Words by Richard Moore