Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt And The Magnetic Fields
DIRECTED BY KERTHY FIX AND GAIL O’HARA
Part genius, part indie rock curmudgeon, Stephin Merritt has spent 20 years building a reputation as the Cole Porter of contemporary music. His songs—beautiful, sad, bubblegum epics—are tightly conceived masterpieces with nary a chord of waste (hence his ability to cram 69 Love Songs onto a three-CD set). More than a decade in the making, this doc probably hoped for an explosion in popularly that never came. Merritt and his band, The Magnetic Fields, remain loved by hipsters and generally unheard by everyone else. While the music is a delight, the real treat is the relationship between Merritt—an eccentric gay man with a decidedly downtown New York City flair—and his manager/musical partner Claudia Gonson. Described as a “super intellectual version of Edith and Archie Bunker,” this pair hooked up 23 years ago as kids in Cambridge. Gonson offers Merritt organization, unwavering support, and a filter to the outside world. Drama comes when Merritt—a man who can’t cook, takes cabs everywhere, and writes lyrics in thumping gay discos—suddenly announces he is moving to the sunshine of Los Angeles. Where will this leave Gonson in The Magnetic Fields equation? Like Merritt himself, STRANGE POWERS is dryly funny, a bit bleak, and rewarding in many unusual ways.