‘Almost Beautiful’: Almost Beautiful

Here’s a local music trivia challenge: Name an Orange County goth rock band put together in the early 1990s by a crossdressing church sound technician who’s now in his mid-30s, tours nationally and has also played shows in Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Give up? The band’s name is The Last Dance and it’s the subject of the new documentary ‘Almost Beautiful,’ from indie film director Rocky Costanzo. The members of The Last Dance look like stereotypical goth musicians, but that’s where the stereotypes end.
The aforementioned brain behind the band is guitarist Rick Joyce. He’s the most colorful of the bunch, sporting typical white goth makeup, black (usually women’s) clothes, multi-colored braided hair cut well past his shoulders and a definitively feminine demeanor. He spends a lot of time shyly sitting in a chair with his legs tightly crossed, smiling and fidgeting like a nervous little girl.
Vocalist Jeff Diem, whose spikey bleach-blond hair and poster-boy looks are offset by his tight black leathery clothing, fronts the band. Despite the fact that he sings for a goth band, Diem is very polite and funny, cracking jokes and playful jabs at people from other bands with whom he’s friends.
The third original member of the band is bassist Peter Gorritz. In the film, Gorritz is complimented for his bright red mohawk. While this must piss off Joyce (whose hair is considerably more complicated), these three guys have been playing together longer than some UC Irvine freshmen have been alive, and they all appear to get along great.
Tom Coyne has played drums with the band since their original drummer, Ivan Dominguez, died in 2002. He’s significantly less goth than the rest of the band but still seems to gel with the other members. Coyne is easygoing and contributes several humorous anecdotes to the documentary.
Costanzo did a great job of finding an interesting band for his movie. Not only do these guys defy the conventions for the genre of brooding, antisocial outcasts who never smile and show up to high school armed and shooting, they’re actually talented musicians as well.
The band’s music, which has a gloomy New Wave sound, serves as the soundtrack to the movie. Think along the lines of Depeche Mode or a slightly caffeinated Interpol and you probably get the idea.
The documentary starts with some background information on the band and a behind-the-scenes look at the group recording a music video for their newest CD, then follows them on tour. The subject matter is extremely interesting but the movie suffers from a handful of problems that are too large to ignore.
The first and most glaring is that this flick is way too long. It weighs in at about two hours. Had it been about a half-hour shorter, the time spent in editing would probably have been worth an extra anteater head. Some of the scenes could be cut quite a bit shorter or even taken off the main movie and put on a DVD as extras, where they would probably be more appreciated.
Especially questionable is the last major scene, an anticlimactic segment in which the band duct tapes various objects to large fireworks and shoot them off. While this is humorous, it follows a live performance from the band (which is where the movie should have ended) and probably unnecessarily worries viewers that there’s still a lot more to come.
The scene also goes on for too long, and captures in painstaking detail multiple repetitive occurrences of the band blowing stuff up. It probably should have been switched with the scene before it and cut down significantly.
Another major problem is that the camera missed some of the most interesting scenes when they occurred, and viewers have to settle for band members narrating the stories afterwards.
This happens once after a fight breaks out one night between a band playing with The Last Dance and a club owner at a concert, and again when one of the band members has too much to drink and repeatedly punches a friend while sleepwalking. The guys are entertaining in their recollections of these events, but one can’t help but wondering, ‘Where was the camera when this stuff was happening?’
There are also some attempts at artsy cinematography that just end up being strange. Awkward fadeouts and an especially distracting moment where the screen gets chopped up and looks like a scratched DVD that barely continues to play give the film a slightly amateur feel that could have been avoided if the crew would have just kept it simple.
At the world premiere of the movie in Huntington Beach, Costanzo said that he doesn’t plan on trying to direct another documentary. It’s a shame, because this movie came close to being a really good sneaker. It would’ve been nice to see if Costanzo could pull it off with a little more practice.
As it is, ‘Almost Beautiful’ is a cool exploration of a somewhat underground music scene and is probably great for fans of the band or the goth genre, but only a slightly above average movie.
Still, anyone who’s curious should find somewhere to rent it on DVD. It would probably be more fun to watch if it’s broken up into a couple sittings.
Rating: 3.5/5