American Interior

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Gruff Rhys

Starring

Gruff Rhys Kelley Todd Edmiston Kliph Scurlock

Anticipation.

It’s heartening to see that Separado! wasn’t just a one-off thing.

Enjoyment.

Rhys makes for a superb narrator, and technically the film gets the best out of a tight budget.

In Retrospect.

Dismiss this as a noodling shaggy dog yarn at your peril.

The lead singer of Super Furry Animals heads on a whimsical adventure odyssey in search of his cultural roots.

The reason the flag of Wales is emblazoned with a big red dragon is that the Welsh are a people whose cultural DNA is suffused with myth and legend. This sentiment is stated by Gruff Rhys, charismatic and lightly bumbling front man of indie pop titans, Super Furry Animals, who has lately opted to dip his toe into the cool stream of the travelogue documentary.

American Interior is his second, following on from 2010’s Separado!, and where that first film presented Rhys as a charming, wide-eyed nebbish hiding behind an over-sized Power Rangers helmet, this one sees him upgrading to unkempt Herzogian buccaneer whose journey is fuelled by the heady vapours of existential wonderment.

Like all good adventure yarns, this one is instigated via a mysterious fax. Rhys was notified of the existence of one John Evans when asked to collaborate with a local fringe theatre production. Evans was a possibly apocryphal eighteenth century Welsh folk hero of whom there exists very little in terms of finite historical documentation. He was convinced that a Native American who went by the name of Madoc was operating a Welsh colony somewhere on the banks of the Missouri River, and so set sail to America in order to make a connection with this strange outpost.

To make the project financially viable, Rhys scheduled a US tour to follow in Evans’ bootprints. Instead of just tumbling through a trad set-list, he created a multimedia showreel in order to present a breathless account of Evans’ stupefying and often death-defying galavant. A suave, Muppet-like effigy of Evans is produced in tandem with regular SFA album cover-artist, Pete Fowler, to facilitate a more visual retelling of this tall tale.

There’s something beautiful and profound about the concept of Rhys following a guy who followed a guy who (probably) followed a guy before that. The inference being, if we aren’t able to muster a basic interest in who we are and where we come from – metaphysically speaking – then what’s the point of it all? American Interior is a film about storytelling as a form of cultural lifeblood – whether that be through the books, songs, poems, monuments or just a roughhewn patchwork of idle conjecture.

Beyond Rhys’ search for Evans, the film eventually reveals itself as a film examining the function of stories in wider society, and that while it may be the gory details that hold our attention, it’s their essence and the process of telling which is most vital – an idea that wends its way right back to the Bible.

Yes, it’s an amusing and sometimes flippant work, but Rhys’ ultimate sincerity is never in question. You watch this delightful and fascinating film with the hope that in 200 years time, the dusty print (or the soiled hard-drive) will be rediscovered in a crumbling archive and some brave soul will opt to make a movie about Gruff Rhys’ own foolhardy voyage into the American interior.

Published 8 May 2014

Tags: Gruff Rhys Super Furry Animals

Anticipation.

It’s heartening to see that Separado! wasn’t just a one-off thing.

Enjoyment.

Rhys makes for a superb narrator, and technically the film gets the best out of a tight budget.

In Retrospect.

Dismiss this as a noodling shaggy dog yarn at your peril.

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