DREAMIN’ WILD. An Oscar-worthy film about musicians that… no one has heard of

Bill Pohlad confirms that he is not interested in cookie-cutter film biographies.

Dawid Myśliwiec

30 November 2023

In the resources of world cinematography, there are outstanding films about even more outstanding musical bands. Audiences across every geographical width have marveled at stories of building the legend of Jim Morrison (Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” from 1991), Joy Division (“Control,” Anton Corbijn, 2007), or Queen (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” Dexter Fletcher, 2018). However, what about the bands no one has heard of? Exploring these undiscovered groups is the domain of small labels like Light in the Attic, which enabled Donnie and Joe Emerson, talented musicians from the provincial Fruitland in the state of Washington, to reach a wider audience decades after the release of their only album. This incredible story of the Emerson brothers is told by Bill Pohlad in “Dreamin’ Wild.”

Don’t torment yourself if the director’s name doesn’t ring a bell—Pohlad, for the majority of his career in the film world, has been a producer behind works such as Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” and Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” He has stood behind the camera only three times so far, with his first, the comedy “Old Explorers,” dating back to 1990. However, many years later, Bill Pohlad directed a highly successful and award-winning independent production centered around Brian Wilson, the leader of the legendary Beach Boys. Delving into Wilson’s musical obsession, “Love & Mercy” (2014) was an interesting alternative to standard rock star biopics, demonstrating Pohlad’s keen understanding of the music world. It’s no wonder that in his next directorial project, he once again chose enthusiasts of creating unique sounds as his protagonists. “Dreamin’ Wild” is inherently fascinating, as two not-so-close brothers in their forties get a chance to return to their roots and present their seemingly long-forgotten music to an audience much larger than the population of provincial Fruitland, their hometown. Unlike typical music biographies in movies, “Dreamin’ Wild” doesn’t follow the classic “rags to riches” path. Instead, it focuses on performers whose hopes of making it big faded many years ago. A call from the owner of a small record label turns out to be an unexpected chance for a career, fulfillment, and a new life.

Bill Pohlad confirms that he is not interested in cookie-cutter film biographies. If he were to seriously enter the Oscar race, he would likely tackle the story of a former rock star whose career fell apart due to addiction, tragedy, or bad choices (stories like these are abundant in showbiz). Meanwhile, “Dreamin’ Wild” fulfills its promise to viewers with its poetic title—not just because it shares its name with the debut (and only) album of the Emerson brothers. Pohlad’s film is filled with dream-like sequences, carried by incredibly original but also chaotic, impossible-to-fit-into-a-specific-genre compositions by Donnie and Joe Emerson. In “Dreamin’ Wild,” chronology only works halfway—contemporary events focused on rediscovering the music of the main characters are interspersed with sequences from the past, where the brothers, especially Donnie, spend long hours in their father’s recording studio. I tried for a long time to assess which of these time planes—the present or the past—Pohlad is more interested in, but I couldn’t answer that question. Probably because in “Dreamin’ Wild,” they are connected in an extraordinary way—without the contemporary events, we wouldn’t learn the story of the Emerson brothers’ album’s creation. Still, without the album, there wouldn’t be this beautiful, contemporary story of rediscovering forgotten musical gems.

Certainly, not everyone will react the same way, but inspired by “Dreamin’ Wild,” I started delving a bit deeper into articles about this incredible niche in the music industry—reissues of albums released years ago, often at the artists’ own expense and forgotten. It turns out that in the USA, there is no shortage of enthusiasts spending hundreds of hours scouring antique shops and flea markets in search of independently released vinyl records. While only a handful of these releases are worth listening to, and only a few deserve a reissue, these enthusiasts deserve immense respect for recognizing the achievements of thousands of amateur musicians dreaming of fame and greatness. “Dreamin’ Wild,” featuring strong performances by Casey Affleck (Donnie), Walton Goggins (excellent as Joe!), and Beau Bridges, is a work that strives to be like—ironically amazing!—the music of the Emerson brothers, where the atmosphere is more important than technical perfection. In his extensive text that inspired Pohlad’s film, Steven Kurutz called it a “molecular vibe”—I couldn’t describe it better myself. The true achievement is that this elusive quality has been successfully transferred to the screen.

Dawid Myśliwiec

Dawid Myśliwiec

Always in "watching", "about to watch" or "just watched" mode. Once I've put my daughter to bed, I sit down in front of the screen and disappear - sometimes losing myself in some American black crime story, and sometimes just absorbing the latest Netflix movie. For the past 12 years, I have been blogging with varying intensity at MyśliwiecOglą

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