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Hype! Collector’s Edition

Studio: Shout! Factory

Sep 29, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

When documentary filmmaker Doug Pray went to Seattle in 1993, he did so to examine the phenomenon of “grunge,” a musical style that had been commercially exploited thanks to the success of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains. What he didn’t realize, though, was that he arrived at the perfect moment, for when he and his crew wrapped up production in early spring, he had done so literally days before the “grunge” phenomenon came to its tragic end, when Kurt Cobain was found dead. Hype!, released two years later, served as a timely obituary upon its release and has since become perhaps the best examination of that brief, peculiar phenomenon when the music and “lifestyle” of Seattle dominated international pop culture.

Seattle wasn’t trying to become an international scene, though. Because of its remote location in the Northwest, the musical scene was insular and homegrown, mainly out of necessity; bands simply didn’t tour to such a seemingly out-of-the-way location. Where bands thrive, so do labels to release their records, clubs to put on shows, and publications to promote all of them. Pray was able to sit down with many of these innovators and visionaries at a time when, as Sub Pop’s Megan Jasper declares, Seattle was like a shopping mall on Christmas Eve, fifteen minutes before closing time. You can sense the strain and frustration in several of the interviewees approach their chats with a sense of cynical humor, including Jasper, artist Art Chantry, Eddie Vedder, and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and Steve Turner. Pray states that after Cobain’s death, this sense of humor was gone, and understandably so; Cobain’s death was a heavy cultural event, and the consumerist world almost instantly distanced itself from “grunge” and the Seattle scene, and the music industry quickly moved on to exploit pop-punk as the hip youth culture phenomenon, making stars of bands like Green Day and The Offspring, and thus beginning the cycle of scene exploitation once again.

But what makes Hype! special is its musical content, and its focus on bands and artists who weren’t famous. With a sequence of fantastic performances from bands as diverse as The Posies, Fastbacks, Mudhoney, Zipgun, Love Battery, The Supersuckers, and what would be one of the last performances of The Gits, the viewer gets a wonderful sense of what a Friday night in Seattle was like. To his credit, Pray intentionally didn’t focus on the big names; thus, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain serve as an afterthought in the story they invented. Not that they’re completely left out; the film’s most impressive moment is the first public performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” captured on a raw, rough VHS recording. Cobain’s death provides the conclusion of the film; it’s a twilight beautifully documented with Mark Lanegan’s song “The River Rise” and footage of the sun setting in the distance. Even in summation, the interview subjects still can’t quite comprehend just what had happened to their town and their little scene. “Every now and then we find out that Seattle got really famous, and we didn’t,” sighs The Fastbacks’ Kim Warnick at the film’s conclusion, “but that’s not too bad; that’s okay.”

And that’s what makes Hype! such compelling, interesting viewing; it offers no answers to the question of, “Why Seattle?,”—a question that, twenty-five year later, is still unanswerable. Instead of seeking answers, Hype! finds satisfaction in basking in the glory of the fleeting moment—a moment everyone involved is aware of, a bubble that everyone knows will burst, a stage-diving, slam-dancing whist Seattle burns around them. Hype! is a beautiful encapsulation of youth culture, a time capsule that delights and entertains twenty years after its release and serves as an essential document of that confusing, bizarre, and oft tragic time.


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