You May Need a Murderer
Duluth band Low has been blessed by filmmaker collaborations over its nearly 20 year career. Musician, filmmaker, and future Duluthian Marc Gartman recounted the band’s early years in the excellent 2002 film Closer Than That (included in the A Lifetime of Temporary Relief box set). German documentarian Sebastian Schrade delivered a fine tour film in the 2004 featurette Low in Europe. Twin Cities avant-gardist Phil Harder has been a regular collaborator on music videos over the years, and many other filmmakers have captured and shared small moments of the band’s consistently surprising performances, intellect, faith, and whimsy. But one film stands above the pack. You May Need a Murderer, directed by Dutchman David Kleijwegt, is both the finest film about Low and one of the finest films about Duluth.
Shown on Dutch television in 2007, and shot a bit before that, You May Need a Murderer catches Low in a sort of post-apocalyptic haze. “The Great Destroyer” era, with its songs about going deaf and walking into the sea, its canceled tours and subsequent speculations about mental hospitals, is in the past. But, what now?
Here we see frontman Alan Sparhawk (now playing fewer Telecasters, and more Les Paul and Danelectro guitars) developing songs that would be on “Drums and Guns,” and rocking with the Retribution Gospel Choir as Matt Livingston and Eric Pollard, while his wife and band companion Mimi Parker endures as the eternal anchor. Sparhawk’s apocalypticism does resurface, though, as he quotes from the Latter Day Saints’ Doctrine and Covenants, reflects on 9/11 and George W. Bush, and discusses his harrowing song “Murderer” (surely one of Low’s theological masterpieces). But, life goes on — as Kleijwegt points out by elegantly counterposing a live performance of “When I Go Deaf” with Sparhawk out for a jog.
As a film depicting deep but conflicted love for Duluth and the surrounding area, You May Need a Murderer has few peers, though Emily Goldberg’s Venus of Mars and Sam Shepard’s Far North come to mind. Like those films, Murderer depicts a love for the area by a creative individual not in sync with the isolationist, disappear-into-the-woods romanticism common among Northern Minnesotans. Murderer‘s finest moments include what first seem like filler about Duluth: a short drive down Lake Avenue with a discussion of Duluth as “the Timbuktu of America,” and also scenes of Sparhawk gazing out from the Point of Rocks on Lake Superior and the Bay. Yet these scenes rank with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s passages about dreamers, lost in world-encompassing creative ferment, gazing out on Gitche Gumee.