The Past Is A Grotesque Animal is the story of Athens, Georgia based Of Montreal, led by the eclectic and showman-like Kevin Barnes. This band, which began in 1996, has been a revolving cast of characters (as are most artists aligned with the Elephant 6 collective), with Barnes as the man behind the wheel. At times like a combination of The Flaming Lips and Polyphonic Spree, Of Montreal mixes music and show – including costumes and dialogue – into their live performances. They have a rabid-underground following and this movie is, in many ways, a thank you to their fans.
This film puts a more human face on this group as it looks at Barnes’ personality, his drive, his background and his family – part of the intrigue is the introduction of the Norwegian artist who would become his wife as she joins the traveling circus that is this band and how their relationship suffered. Most importantly, it tells a fairly cohesive story to a band that changes course, style and presentation with each successive album and tour. As you watch, over time you see the evolution of this band go from straight indie band to more theatrical to dance/groove oriented performance.
What I liked so much is that it’s a band that I knew nothing about, save for having heard the name. It was an interesting story with (for a documentary) interesting “characters”. And the music was intriguing to say the least. Thus, I recommend The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, even if you’re not a fan of Of Montreal. You may become one.