The Residents may be known more for their signature costumes — tuxedos with giant eyeballs covering their heads — than the nearly 50 albums and 24 multimedia projects they’ve released since 1972. But a new film puts a spotlight on the influence of the avant-garde group’s DIY approach and its twist on musical collages, spoken word and performance art.
Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents, which will premiere at South by Southwest on March 14, chronicles the nearly 50-year career of the theatrical art-rock collective, which was formed by Louisiana natives in San Francisco in the mid-1960s. The doc includes footage from their first show, in 1971, through their 40th-anniversary tour. In keeping with the group’s anonymous image, the Cryptic Corporation, which records and markets the music and videos, handles the interviews.
Boogaloo Film ‘We Like It Like That’ Salutes the Sound That ‘Saved Latin Music in New York’
“This was a dream project,” says director Don Hardy, who entered the film knowing certain elements, including the band members’ identities, would remain incognito. “From the beginning, they said, ‘We don’t want editorial control.’ They respected the artistic process.”
The group also will present its latest show, “Shadowland,” at SXSW on March 20, an idea that Hardy shared at the first meeting between the filmmakers and the Cryptic Corporation. “We said, ‘If we get into SXSW, maybe we can have a concert,'” he recalls. “Their reaction [to the film pitch] was, ‘Why bother? Nobody cares about us.’ I said, ‘That isn’t true’ — and part of my challenge became proving to them that they have a legacy and an impact.”
This story originally appeared in the March 14 issue of Billboard.