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Inside/Out re-issue retains raw edges

In 1986, a film crew arrived in Athens in the dead of winter to document the town's well-known music scene. By then, the first wave (B-52's, Tone-Tones) and second wave (Side Effects, Method Actors) were over, leaving R.E.M and Love Tractor as the only survivors in town. The movie made due largely with third-wave bands, most of whom had less to offer (Dreams So Real, Time Toy) or had radically departed from the art/dance tempo of their predecessors (B-B-Q Killers).

The resulting film, Athens, Ga. — Inside/Out, was re-released last month on DVD and endures as a gritty, unforgettable document. Long out-of-print on VHS, Athens is a strange collage riddled with glaring omissions. Acts that had moved away or broken up are represented by grainy, overexposed, non-synchronous home movies projected ridiculously at the wrong speed.

Yet, like the music scene itself, the movie is significant. And it remains the only professional feature-length document of those early days. New bonuses include a short, irrelevant monologue by the White Stripes' Jack White and a long interview with Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, a band active in Athens since 1982 yet noticeably absent in the film. A brief chat with B-52's sirens Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson plays underneath their band's "Deabeat [sic] Club" video. The sequence is notable for its mention of Atlanta label head Danny Beard, another key figure overlooked by the film. A so-called "interview" with David Gamble of the Method Actors (a seminal two-piece outfit criminally absent from the feature), consists of nothing but Gamble spouting preposterous Biblical revisionism at the Flat Duo Jets, a North Carolina combo who briefly resided in Athens and unfortunately remains Athens' focus, then and now.

Paramount among the original film's flaws was director Tony Gayton's maddening failure to properly identify the participants. The oversight proved especially frustrating during the extensive interview footage. The DVD's principal extra, however, is a feature-length commentary track in which Gayton and producer Bill Cody watch the film together, offering a prime opportunity to correct this oversight.

Gayton and Cody do mention some of the onscreen artists by name (providing long-overdue recognition for rifle-slinging poet Chris Slay). But more typically, they just can't remember. Unable to recall the name of second-unit photographer Mike Webb, they resort to pointing him out onscreen; and they reference the Indigo Girls as simply "those two girls from Atlanta."

In contrast to common DVD standards, the movie's audio track is muted during the commentary, which proves irritating. Despite the slapdash presentation, the two filmmakers do offer some fascinating insights, including unreserved speculation that Rev. Howard Finster's "religious visions" resulted less from divine inspiration than from painting with tractor enamel inside a tiny, unventilated room.

But it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect these documentarians to have done a little more research on the subsequent whereabouts of their subjects. For example, when musician Bryan Cook (who belonged to five bands simultaneously) says he hopes he doesn't spend the rest of his life making pizzas, it would certainly be worth noting that, although R.E.M. went on to roll in the dough figuratively, the less-fortunate Mr. Cook continued to do so literally.