Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields: For Fans Only

There's a school of thought among some music journalists that interviewing musicians is a waste of time. They have nothing interesting to say, so the theory goes; or whatever they do say is so self-serving and/or buffered by publicists that there's no point in asking questions. In this new documentary by Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara, made over 10 years, the Magnetic Fields' proudly difficult frontman presents an insurmountable fortress to such queries. What little he says comes across as rehearsed stage banter, fundamentally flat and lifeless. Though the filmmakers fawn over him, Merritt reveals himself as little more than an intellectual bully, thin-skinned and aloof. He tells his longtime collaborator/manager Claudia Gonson—perhaps in jest, but humor doesn't seem to be in Merritt's repertoire—that "I read 20 times more than you." Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein confesses to being intimidated by Merritt because "He just always seems superior to everyone else." (Well, maybe a superior actor.) What little insight we can glean from this directionless doc is not that Merritt always strives to seem the smartest guy in the room, but that he'll cut down friends, colleagues, and morning-show hosts to maintain that appearance.

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