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By Mark Bell | January 4, 2013

Peter O’Brien’s documentary film Riphouse 151: Could’ve Been’s & Wanna Be’s tells the story of Riphouse, a speed metal band from Rockland County, NY. Formed by bassist, vocalist and songwriter Mike Clancy and guitarist Joe Galvin, the band made a major local splash and was on the verge of a breakout when the band broke up. Not an unusual tale to hear about rock bands, and I’ve seen a few documentaries covering similar ground in all manner of music genres, this documentary will be most well-received by those that knew the band back when, and are looking for the whole story or, perhaps, as one of the band members states in the film, are looking for some closure.

And you’ll get the story, and closure, direct from the band members’ mouths. As everything from the genesis of the band’s speed metal direction (usage of cocaine tended to make one lean towards faster music) to the near record deals to the band’s break-up when the lead singer found Jesus to the tragic post-band death of guitarist Jon Eleazar in a car accident, the film pulls no punches and is candid and honest in all ways. This was not a band of quiet personalities, everyone has strong opinions about everything that happened, and we get it all.

Songwriter, bassist and singer Mike Clancy probably gets painted as the most polarizing personality, as he ranges from drug-addicted frontman with severe mood swings to perfectionist prima donna to Born Again Christian before the film is done, but everyone in the band plays their part. Jim DeMaria, the drummer, for instance, was probably the most proactive in promoting and pushing the band to achieve more; it’s not surprising, when Clancy’s turn for Christianity begins to conflict with the songs that made the band (somewhat) famous, that it’s Jim that appears to have the biggest reaction. The band’s clock begins to run out, as Clancy’s priorities change, and Jim perfectly sums the end days of the band up by stating, of Clancy, “He was saved; he didn’t need to be signed.”

From my perspective, not knowing the band, or knowing of them, I continue to marvel at how unfortunately common the tale of near-success is for so many bands. As a fan myself of numerous bands that I thought would breakout, but never did and instead disappeared, I understand the need for closure, as a fan, with the story of those bands. Likewise, I can understand the band’s need to finally get their story on the record.

Lately I’ve been seeing more documentaries that do just that, but just as their intent is often shared, so too is the end result, which is that this documentary is more for those that were there, and who lived it, than it is for those of us who’ve been ignorant otherwise. Which is not to say that I didn’t find the story, or the music, interesting. It’s just… if you already appreciate the music of Riphouse, this film is mostly for you.

On the more technical side of the documentary filmmaking, the film sticks with a traditional talking head interview style, with old photos and performance footage thrown in. Not surprising, and a documentary film doesn’t necessarily need fancy animation or over-polishing to make its point or message heard. That said, the film does have some drawbacks.

The audio is hard to hear quite often, and while I can understand that in the usage of old performance footage, it’s hard to be as accepting when the interview segments cause one to strain. Additionally, the talking head interviews have a visual composition, for most, that seems to favor lots of space above and around the subjects’ heads. This doesn’t take away from what is said or heard, of course, but more something that I noted, as sometimes even the superficial move of getting the subject a little tighter in the frame can result in an almost subliminal connection and closeness; likewise, a framing that is too wide can make you feel more removed from the film, undercutting the engagement.

Overall, though, it’s obvious that everyone involved with Riphouse 151: Could’ve Been’s & Wanna Be’s wanted to make a respectable document of the band’s history, and I feel like they succeeded there. Again, if you’re already knowledgeable of the band, this will likely resonate more for you than for me. For me, though, I got to hear music I’d not heard before, and experience the story of a band I missed out on.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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