Film review: Hype!

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

Contrary to popular belief, there was a Seattle music scene before Nirvana and grunge music — a pretty vibrant and original one at that.

From garage-rock, blues-inspired punk and psychotic fusions between punk-rock and rockabilly, Seattle had it all and actually still does. You'd just never guess it given the amount of attention grunge bands received and how little their competitors did.

"Hype!" a documentary from former music-video director Doug Pray, attempts to rectify that situation, as well as explain exactly how grunge came about and how it became so popular. And for the most part, he succeeds — largely because of some well-chosen interviews and very lively musical performances from much lesser known acts like the Fastbacks, Gas Huffer, the Mono Men, the Young Fresh Fellows and Crackerbash.

In fact, fans expecting to see concert footage from their favorite grunge groups may be a bit disappointed (though they'll probably be the only ones who are) — Nirvana's sole "live" appearance is a home-video version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which is performed for the first time, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam don't show up as performers until much later and Alice in Chains isn't featured at all.

But that's necessary for the film to have a coherent narrative structure. Pray (aided by Brian Levy) actually puts "Hype!" together much like a three-act play — beginning with pre-grunge Seattle, then moving on to the rise of Sub Pop Records, Nirvana's first home, and ending with a surprisingly thoughtful look at grunge's impact on Seattle.

Particularly helpful in giving the story perspective are record producer Jack Endino, the so-called "Godfather of Grunge," and Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, who founded Sub Pop Records. However, as Sub Pop's publicity spokesman points out, 75 percent of what Poneman and Pavitt say are lies, "but it serves them well."

Such humor actually bails out the film near the end, when it becomes overloaded with performances by grungy copycats like Blood Circus. Even better is failed musician Leighton Beezer's attempt to show how he "started" the whole scene with a computerized "family tree" of bands and his demonstration of the difference between punk and grunge by playing just two sets of power chords.

Not everyone comes off as sincere as Endino or as funny as Beezer. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder comes across as being mealy-mouthed and hypocritical for denouncing the popularity of grunge.

"Hype!" is unrated, but would probably receive an R for profanity, some concert violence, brief nudity and shots of nude cartoons and one vulgar joke on a T-shirt.