Success came early on for They Might Be Giants as they quickly built a following in the small clubs in New York in the Eighties. It wasn't long until They Might Be Giants got national exposure in the pages of People magazine, who featured their first album even though it didn't have a label backing and was only available directly from the bad via mail order. They Might Be Giants quickly caught the attention of MTV who put their very low budget video for 'Don't Let's Start' into heavy rotation, a first for an independent band at a time where hair bands reigned supreme on MTV.
Now the documentary: Gigantic (A tale of two John's) takes a look at the journey of They Might Be Giants, from their High School roots in Lincoln Massachusetts all the way through to the present. Gigantic has a fantastic mix of interviews, live concert footage and archival material. Director AJ Schnack does a fantastic job of picking people to interview who are both interesting and entertaining in their own right. The interviews flow seamlessly through out the film, when someone discusses something in an interview it's almost always followed by either clips from their live performance (at the Polish National Home Concert) or archival material. All the interview segments are kept short, so there aren't any scenes where people blabber on endlessly about a topic and none of the scenes feel self congratulatory or overly schmaltzy. In addition to the interviews there are several interludes with notable actors who do deadpan readings of some of They Might Be Giants lyrics including: Harry Shearer, Andy Richter, Janeane Garofalo and Michael McKean which show just how strange and interesting some of their lyrics can be.
In addition to great interviews, Gigantic has a really solid mix of both old and new concert/performance footage. I particularly liked how Schnack contrasts the classic They Might Be Giants songs as they were performed in the eighties by two guys and a tape player, to the current band where they're backed by the '3 Dans'. It shows both how much they've grown and the fact that after over fifteen years in the music business they've held on to the same core that they had when they were first getting started. I've seen so many documentaries chronicling the raise and fall of bands it's great to see a film about how a group of musicians have found success on their terms and definitely made me want to revisit and rediscover their music.
3 Videos for Brave New World: ABC's Nightline did a show on science and technology and asked They Might Be Giants to write music about the topics they covered. The result is 3 really fantastically inventive songs on subjects like weedy species, string theory and man vs. machine. The series is introduced by host Robert Krulwich who talks about how They Might Be Giants jumped at the opportunity to write songs about topics that most bands couldn't fathom singing about.
Raw Footage and Interviews:
Dr Worm Sound Check: A candid moment of the band doing a sound check, singing their song 'Dr Worm'. This is the kind of candid moment that doesn't really fit into a documentary but is interesting to see how the band is when they aren't really aware that their being filmed. (runs 4:20)
Guitarmageddon - They Might Be Giants band member Dan Miller talks to John Flansburgh an album he's planning on releasing on the net. Not all that interesting of a clip, just a couple of guys sitting around talking. (runs 2:26)
Knowing The Johns: An extended interview piece with the very sarcastic Syd Straw. She talks about her first meeting with the band and spins some tales. The footage of her in the actual documentary is a lot better, but this clip is amusing. (runs 3:25)
Station ID's with WLIE: Some footage of the band recording promos for one of their gigs at a radio station. Fairly funny and amusing stuff, especially when the takes they do go worse and worse. (runs 3:18)
Feelin' Bad in 94 Extended interview footage with Sarah Vowell (contributing editor to the radio show This American Life) who talks about a show at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in 1994. An interesting anecdote (runs 1:43)
The Crying Girl Revisited: Extended footage of a VERY emotional girl who bawls at meeting They Might Be Giants at one of their record signings. An interesting look at what it's like to try to interact with an overwhelmed fan (runs 1:00)
Couples Love Cheese Steak Sandwiches: Extended interview footage of John Linnell who talks about meeting women on the road and an incident in Philadelphia and cheese steak sandwiches and a car full of girls. (runs 2:30)
WLIR Cowtown Performance: An extended clip of They Might Be Giants performing Cowtown at WLIR with an enthusiastic DJ trying to accompany on the maracas. There's a shorter version of this in the documentary, but it's nice to be able to see the whole thing. (runs 3:27).
On Factory Showroom: Josh Kornbluth (from Haiku Tunnel fame) talks about the album Factory Showroom. As always Josh Kornbluth is funny. (runs 1:00)
Full House Every Night: Concert footage with John Flansburgh talking about their next album and introducing the band. (runs 1:00)
Old Fashioned Show Biz Extended interview with Ira Glass talking about the piece done by Sarah Vowell on This American Life featuring the band on his radio show for Dial-A-Song. An interesting anecdote that gives some interesting back story. (runs 4:34)
With a Beat: Another quick snippet with Josh Kornbluth (runs 0:21)
Mexican Wrestling Masks: The two Johns talk about slipknot with Conan O'Brien and the entire genre of music from people with Mexican Wrestling Masks. Another nice candid moment (runs 1:52)
Papa's Got a Brand New Belt: John Flansburgh talks about getting a new belt. A random snippet. (runs 0:36)
McSweeny's: McSweeny's publisher David Eggers talks about the real McSweeny and how the two Johns made the McSweeny's theme song. Followed by the actual McSweeny song. (runs 4:09)
This is John and John: An outtake from one of the intros with the two Johns. (runs 0:20)
Live from the Polish National Home:
Who is the head of that guy in the Videos?: Accessed on Features page by click the picture of the guy's head in the blue circle. A short feature on the image of the guy who appears in so many of They Might Be Giant's videos and who exactly he is. (runs 1:17)
Growing Up in Lincoln: Fills in some of the gaps about the early years of They Might Be Giants. It's a very interesting segment and could easily have fit in the documentary. We learn in the audio commentary that it was cut for pacing. (runs 6:28)
Apollo 18 and Elvis Costello: A segment talking about a rocky patch in the relationship between They Might Be Giants and Elecktra records, after Flood when the record company wanted Elvis Costello to produce Apollo 18. Shirley Meyers and AJ Schnack goof around a bit, talk about the My Fair Lady DVD and why cut the segment. (runs 4:00)
Birdhouse in Your Soul on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson: The entire performance of Birdhouse in Your Should featured in the main documentary on the Tonight show, with Jay Lenno filling in for Carson. (runs 3:14)
Mr. Me on Joy Farm: Old video concert footage of They Might Be Giants from the eighties when they were just 2 guys and a tape player. (runs 1:47)
Boat of Car & Meet James Ensor Instore Performance: Extended footage from They Might Be Giants instore performance at Tower Records in 2001 to promote the release of their album Mink Car. Here they sing 'Boat of Car' and 'Meet James Ensor' and the crowd seems to love it. It's great to hear the song 'Meet James Ensor' as it's referred to several times in the main documentary but we never get to hear it until now. (runs 3:39)
Flood Promo: A promo video for Flood that's a collection of a number of little segments: First a quick intro and promo where the two Johns talk about their album and race through all the songs on the album. Next an appearance on British TV in 1989 where the snippet 'It's like Being the world's smallest midget' comes from. Then a complete acoustic version of the song Particle Man (which is briefly shown in the documentary, but is complete here), it's a rare treat and worth seeking out. It closes with a snippet of the song 'Birdhouse in Your Soul'. (runs 6:04)
This American Life: Both Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass appear through out the main documentary and this radio show is referred to a lot, so it's very nice to be able to listen to it in full. The Audio piece is called 'When The Telephone is Your Medium' and focuses on Dial-A-Call. (runs 16:20)
Nick Rocks: Clips from They Might Be Giants hosting the old Nickelodeon show 'Nick Rocks'. They read letters from fans, intro videos and promo Dial-A-Song. (runs 3:36)
Excerpts from The Fan Room: Snippets of They Might Be Giants Fans talking about their fandom, some fan snippets were used in the documentary and there are a ton more here. (runs 3:25)
Hide Away Folk Family on Joy Farm: Another snippet from Joy Farm, old video concert footage of They Might Be Giants performing 'Hide Away Folk Family (runs 3:31).
Original "New York City" by Cub: The song 'New York City' performed by Cub used in the documentary. Audio only. (runs 2:59).
Michael McKean: I Palindrome I: Another reading by Michael McKean not used in the film of I Palindrome I. (runs 1:09)
Flansy Stays in The Picture: Accessed by clicking on the picture of John Flansburgh talking on the phone. A short audio sketch which is silly and fun. (runs 1:15)