Gigantic (a Tale of Two Johns)

They Might Be Giants… love them or hate them, because few people fall in between those two poles. My personal discovery of the band was fairly early on, when Dr. Demento started playing tunes off their first album and grabbed my young brain for a long, long, time. Decades later, it’s encouraging to know they’re still at it, still sticking to their guns, still doing what they do, never catering to anyone else’s whims but their own.

Gigantic is a surprisingly well done rockumentary- surprising because, though it’s pretty standard fare in terms of mixing interviews with live footage, it covers a lot and covers it well. People who don’t know the band (is such a thing possible in this day and age?) will receive a strong argument about why they should, younger fans will learn what is, to them, ancient history, and even die-hard fans will discover bits and pieces that re-kindle one’s love of these two brilliant nerds.

Nerds is the operative word here, and something the documentary sorely misses- the gigantic, trailblazing effect these two nerds had on making geekdom mainstream and cool. Back in the 90’s, cool people did not like TMBG; two nerdy white guys with nasal voices singing about obscure subjects full of ironic references to obscure pop culture history? I’ll take the Pixies instead, thanks. Interestingly enough, Mr. hip Frank Black himself is a huge fan and longtime friend, which speaks to the musical sophistication of TMBG’s music. While the film touches upon this indirectly, a deep dive into what makes their songs so musically unique (and important contributions in furthering the borders of the pop music idiom) or the cultural and historical value of this duo’s aesthetic in the larger context of the American cultural identity would have truly pushed the film into a higher dimension with more resonating themes.

But it is what it is, and what it is is quite worth a hundred minutes off your life. Featuring plenty of celebrity fans, from Harry Shearer & Michael McKean to PBS heartthrobs Ira Glass & Dave Eggers, Gigantic definitely entertains. The filmmakers seem to have shot footage right up through September 10, 2001, begging the question, did 9-11 force director AJ Schnack to end the story prematurely? If it did, it might have been a blessing in disguise- the post 9-11 story of TMBG is much less interesting as they settle into middle age and become soft and safe godfathers of nerd culture, comfortable in their new roles as the musical go-to band of Silicon Valley. Thankfully, Gigantic forever enshrines the fact that TMBG’s beginnings were as punk rock as anyone’s, and that the artistic voice that emerged out of limitations and necessity is as unique and American as the best of ’em.


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