With little more than a consumer grade video camera, Jim Costa and John Monteagudo chronicle the independent rock music scene in San Diego. “…at the street level” is a documentary of the lowest, most rugged variety.
Len Paul, owner of Soma, a venue for the local garage bands, uses the term “street level” to describe the scene’s music. Battalion of Saints, Buck-O-Nine, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Deadbolt, The Dragons, Sprung Monkey, Pico De Gallo, Payable on Death, Ghoulspoon, The Grey Boy Allstars, Dryve, and Steve Harris are among the artists covered in the film.
For the most part, “…at the street level” is very long, sometimes boring and very amateurish, held together entirely by concert footage and interviews. Though the images themselves are rather sloppy and poorly composed, the subjects have some very fascinating things to say. While “…at the street level” is clearly more of a fanboy-inspired video production than an investigative documentary; it’s made with a clear sense of passion and conviction. This is a film made by two guys who love underground flavored music and have a deep disdain towards commercialism. What unites all of the interview subjects is their love for their craft.
Paul Brinberg and Corbin Dooley, owners of Indie Record label “PC Music” speak with enthusiasm about the San Diego scene. “We just didn’t want to be someplace big like New York or LA…we wanted to be someplace where we could be a big fish in a small pond.” Many of the artists are quick to point to the digital revolution as their savior. With each passing year, there is less of a need for big record labels, as burning CD’s at home becomes more and more accessible. From what we see in this film, all of the local San Diego bands share a certain crudeness; they are unabashedly loud, lewd, and sometimes rebellious. “If Madonna could record a fart, that’s what we would sound like,” says a Ghoulspoon band member.
By and large, San Diego is an ultra Right Wing Conservative town. The street level music, therefore, becomes all the more renegade. “San Diego is the worst place in the world, it’s so Republican, so dry, so f*****g horrible,” says Battalion of Saints lead singer George Anthony. “Nobody likes me in San Diego and I like that…I’ll go into a bar, and nobody will sit next to me. I’ll have the whole table to myself”.
At 110 minutes in length, “…at the street level” is painfully way too long for its own good. While a lot of the interview subjects have interesting opinions to express, the film suffers from poor exposition. Although chapter cards are used to divide segments, the film could have used more subtitles or captions to identify who’s who and what’s related to what. The chintzy analog video medium, with its low-resolution and poor audio quality, also hurts the film, hindering it from reaching its full potential. For fans of the San Diego sound this might be worth a look, especially for its depth. However, to those unfamiliar with the scene, “…at the street level” will seem rather dull, geeky, and uninvolving.