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Theory of Obscurity tells the story of the renegade sound and video collective known as The Residents…a story that spans 40 years and is clouded in mystery. Many details surrounding the group are secret, including the identities of its members. They always perform wearing masks and costumes, which is part of their magic. At its heart, this story is about perseverance and chasing your dream. The Residents never caved to convention. They never compromised. They’ve followed their muse for decades and thousands of fans have hung on for the ride. Along the way they’ve also inspired many people to be weird, take chances and find their own voice.

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Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents movie full length review - Reality is boring when compared to this band.

Making a documentary about a subject that is intentionally and carefully shrouded in mystery (and sometimes mythology) is not an easy task, but it can be done -- the excellent and quite scary 'Jandek on Corwood' from 2003 is an example.

The Residents are one of America's greatest ever pop bands (seriously!), spanning over four decades of work and succeeding in creating interesting and unconventional avant-garde pop concept albums over and over again throughout the period, from pseudo-ethnographic field recordings of Eskimos to perceptions of human life through the eyes of different animals.

They are also completely anonymous: we don't know their names (besides the occasional offerings of nicknames like 'Mr. Skull' or 'Randy', 'Chuck' and 'Bob') or anything about their personal lives. Of course, to any big fan of the band (of which I am certainly one), we really do know who the members of the Residents are; and for anyone new to the band that watches this documentary, it won't take a genius-level IQ to work it out either.

But who the members of the band really are just isn't the point -- the Residents is a concept, a creation, they aren't a group of personalities or celebrities, they're an artistic idea, a rejection of the convention of fame and ego in rock 'n' roll, and this film seeks to highlight this.

'Theory of Obscurity' is a talking heads-style documentary with input from some of their famous fans, like Matt Groening, Penn Jillette, Les Claypool and members of Ween and Devo. There's a lot of the history of the band that isn't touched upon or is mentioned only briefly, but considering the band's four decades of creativity this was inevitable.

There is some fascinating, extremely early footage of the Residents featured (before they even had their band name or recorded an album), from when they first moved to San Francisco and would hijack their peers' hippie performances with Dada free-jazz pop nonsense. This is contrasted next to footage from the 'Wonder of Weird' 40th anniversary world tour, the band now a collection of wizened old pros, yet still full of mischievousness and aiming to subvert.

Your interest in alternative/experimental rock and weirdo art will decide your enjoyment of this film, but it's a well-crafted and loving piece of work that features the input of Homer Flynn and Hardy Fox. What they give us here is the most information we are ever likely to get about the history of the Residents, and for most of us, that's enough -- the music speaks louder than whatever the reality is. Reality is boring when compared to this band.