Monday, November 19, 2012


USA/2006/Directed by Greg Gibbs
Celebrating the life and work of independent record producer/distributor Long Gone John (who founded the retro/punk label Sympathy for the Music Industry in 1988), Greg Gibb’s The Treasures of Long Gone John is almost two documentaries combined. On one hand, it serves as a biography of its subject, while on the other it serves as a documentary of sorts on the whole ‘lowbrow’ art movement popularised by the likes of Juxtapoz magazine (though most of the artists interviewed loath the term ‘lowbrow’ and prefer the more pretentious handle of ‘pop surrealism’).

John paints his upbringing as one filled with rebellion and time spent in numerous boarding schools, though unfortunately none of his family members are interviewed to provide counterpoint views (apart from his wife – who lives in the house next door, and his two daughters), so you have to wonder if he is trying to perpetuate his own mythology in regards to his past. Eventually finding success with his Sympathy label, John single-handedly (supposedly) released over 750 records by over 500 different artists, without ever signing a contract (artist and label were free to walk away at any time, as one of John’s more famous ‘discoveries’, The White Stripes did, taking with them all the music they had recorded and released on Sympathy’s dime). Other acts which Sympathy released include Hole, The 5678's, Veruca Salt and Rocket from the Crypt.

By far the most interesting moments in The Treasures of Long Gone John are those which focus on the amazing collection of art, treasures, toys and other artefacts which fill his house to the brim. From original paintings by Mark Ryden and Todd Schorr, to Ed Wood’s personal screenplay for Plan 9 from Outer Space and the original leather jacket which Iggy Pop wore on the back cover of Raw Power, to discarded celebrity prescription bottles (including Debbie Harry’s Prozac), to a secret room which houses an enormous collection of rare vinyl, John is a living definition of the obsessive collector bordering on hoarder. Starting off his collecting with trips to flea markets, John is always on the hunt for "more stuff", though interestingly he never considers himself a material person (something I can identify with, being a collector of ‘trash culture’ who also has no need for status symbols like cars and Rolex watches).

The other segments of The Treasures of Long Gone John examine the work of a number high-profile artists featured in John’s extensive collection of lowbrow/pop surrealist art, including Mark Ryden, Coop, Todd Schorr, Camille Rose Garcia, Shag and Robert Williams (founder of Juxtapoz magazine and - along with the late Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth - considered the father of the lowbrow movement). Throughout its running time, the film captures the execution by Todd Schorr of a 6 x 8 foot painting featuring John, captured through time-lapse photography and filmed over a nine-month period. Personally, I felt like this art movement is deserving of it’s own comprehensive documentary, and came away thinking as if these scenes were added primarily to stretch the film’s running-time to feature length (after all, Long Gone John has little to do with this actual art, apart from being able to afford it and using some early Coop work on his Sympathy seven-inch releases).

Featuring of course a soundtrack of Sympathy artists, The Treasures of Long Gone John is a sometimes disjointed but always fascinating journey into an eclectic and unique American mind. As an entrepreneur, I would prefer John’s life (and hair) to that of Donald Trump’s anyday.

S’more Entertainment’s American DVD release of The Treasures of Long Gone John also includes a (rather dry) director’s commentary track, a Long Gone John tribute concert, and - best of all - a twenty minute tour of his house and vast collection.

Review by John Harrison/Copyright 2012