Mini-Review: Strange Powers


Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields

Documentary, 2010

89 minutes

Starring: Stephin Merritt, Claudia Gonson, Daniel Handler, Carrie Brownstein, Neil Gaiman, Peter Gabriel

Directed by: Kerthy Fix, Gail O’Hara


In another time, or perhaps another place, Stephin Merritt would be widely regarded as a lyrical genius. He’d be the next Cole Porter, a witty wordsmith whose songs are both deliciously hummable and surprisingly poignant. He’d be famous, in demand, celebrated for his virtuosity…. In his own time and his own situation, though, Merritt is regrettably more obscure than that. While perhaps an indie icon, he is no radio star; his songs are largely unfamiliar to anyone who has not sought them out. Perhaps this suits him just fine. Or, maybe, baroque pop sensibilities and instruments like the ukulele will never be for everyone. Whatever the case, fans like me will have to take solace in the fact that Merritt is, if not an actual star, at least the star of this documentary, which chronicles the ups and downs of his band, The Magnetic Fields, over the course of 10 years. Strange Powers offers an intimate look at Merritt’s process, from writing down ideas to practicing, revising and eventually recording a song. It also gives insight into his close relationship with longtime collaborator Claudia Gonson. For anyone completely enamored of the band’s music, this documentary is a must. It provides access to Merritt that is so rarely granted, and an opportunity to connect with the music on a deeper level. And, no surprise, it has an amazing soundtrack.

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