The history of rock ‘n’ roll is filled with businessmen who are either the talent’s best friend or worst enemy. Many artists wouldn’t have a career without a savvy suit on their side. Others wake up in their seventies, making one-thousandth of a cent for every streamed song and are living concert-to-concert, thanks to being on the wrong side of one too many contracts. In the short film, Portrait of a Rocker: B-Side, directed by Joe Anderson and Nadine Vincent, a green rock duo has a meeting with a fast-talking music executive who has enough unchecked confidence for all three of them.
Their spur-of-the-moment meeting, remaining true to the rock ‘n’ roll mythos, is conducted in a shadowy booth over 2 AM burgers and milkshakes. All the sensible people have called it a night, and only the mad ones have stuck to the walls. The music executive, Eddie Chapman (John Baker Butler), has total control of the conversation, leading the two musicians on an oral odyssey through their future, James Brown’s past, and back again to the present.
It’s a whirlwind of words designed to dizzy the two musicians so that he can show them the way. Make it rain and sell the umbrellas. The musicians, Lloyd (John Rousseau) and Beck (Tate Dewey) keep quiet, unable to get a full thought in if they wanted to, but mostly dumbfounded that anyone could possibly care this much about them. They’re like the guy who gets offered the job he’s always wanted and responds with, “are you sure?”
“…a green rock duo has a meeting with a fast-talking music executive…”
Where the movie gets the freedom to have fun with its characters and dialogue is by not telling a story. It doesn’t mess around with all that beginning, middle, and end nonsense. Why limit yourself to that, especially with a short film where those checkpoints don’t leave any room for the good stuff? This is simply a moment in time—a vital one, maybe—that’s compounded on by robust characters and slip-n-slide dialogue.
The acting is much better than what you’d expect for an independent short film, most of which seem to be populated by the director’s circle of friends. There’s nothing phony about Butler’s performance—you know who he is, by the way, he uses his hands as tiny threats and chews foods like it’s going to disappear before he can swallow it. Everything’s a battle or a race. His finest moment comes when he chastises the waitress for offering more water, then fifteen seconds later goes for his empty glass of water and scoffs—not at himself, surely. Though they don’t talk much, Rousseau and Dewey are total naturals in their wide-eyed wonderment, unsure if they’re victims or the luckiest guys on the planet.
You get the feeling Portrait of a Rocker: B-Side has different aspirations than other short films. It’s all about mood, style, and extracting little truths instead of big ones. At the end of the day, this is a prance across the camera, showing off the filmmakers’ abilities to create interesting people who say interesting things in interesting ways in an interesting place, all without the guardrails of a plot to hold the viewer’s interest for them.
"…doesn't mess around with all that beginning, middle, and end nonsense."