Whether we realize it or not, great bands are more than just their music—it’s their drama that keeps fans talking. As much as we discuss a band’s songs, eventually, we talk about the way they broke up and then became giddy over a fantasy booking. That’s the idea behind Chris Easterly’s short film, The Rise, Fall, and Rerise of Lithium Phoenix.
Easterly’s film tells the story of veteran hairband Lithium Phoenix, and its principals J-Phoenix (Jason Gray) and Brian Lithium (Brian Cox). The 20-minute mockumentary goes into the impact and legacy of the band, calling them “visionary” and “talented.” Lithium Phoenix was “ahead of their time.”
Interviews with music influencers, managers, agents, fans, and Lithium and Phoenix themselves, takes us through the band’s history. How they met, the early days, meeting their wives, their children, and the children they didn’t know they had.
Then comes the fateful day they’re caught in a plagiarism scandal. Their fall from grace led them down the road to obscurity, reducing them to become a cover band of bands that covered their music.
“…reducing them to become a cover band of bands that covered their music.”
When you make a rock mockumentary, you’re ultimately going to be compared to This is Spinal Tap and find yourself always coming up short. Yes, it is unfair to compare an indie short film to Spinal Tap, but there are lessons to be learned by understanding what made Spinal Tap work and translate it to your indie film.
The Rise, Fall, and Rerise of Lithium Phoenix, unfortunately, falls flat as a comedic piece. It’s not that the jokes are bad, as it presents humorous situations but fails to deliver laugh-out-loud moments with desperately needed punchlines. A band that becomes a cover band of cover bands that cover them is a funny idea, but just saying that is not enough. You have to pay off that joke. The obsessed fan is full of potential. Look for new ways to approach the subject.
Lastly, there’s a risk in making comedies about rock bands, and it’s the music. The thing about Spinal Tap is the actors were accomplished musicians, and they wrote original songs, that were amazing and iconic. It’s almost a cheat not to have real music in a film about music.
The Rise, Fall, and Rerise of Lithium Phoenix needed more time to dig-in and mine the comedy potential of its premise. Weirdly, if it wasn’t trying to be a comedy, it has the makings of an interesting documentary. I do like the way it was shot, the use of “archival” footage is good, and the editing tells an efficient story that keeps the plot moving. Also, the acting is not that bad for non-actors. For the most part, everyone knew how to tell their individual stories, and the characters never went over-the-top. Again, this is supposed to be a comedy.
"…it has the makings of an interesting documentary."