Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) is the celebrated true story of They Might Be Giants, the Brooklyn-based musical duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell. Embracing the Do-It-Yourself ethos of true independent artists, they ... more »have followed a unique and sometimes unconventional path to cult stardom - from their first meeting in grade school to their 2002 Grammy Award - aided by stunning low-budget music videos, trailblazing use of the internet and a telephone answering machine. Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) is a chronicle of the band's 20-year history, told through performances, animation, videos and hilarious commentaries from friends and fans.« less
Center Man | Norwich, CT United States | 12/04/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This review can be broken into two: the film, and the DVD. Positive and negative reviews of "Gigantic" stressed A.J. Schnack's uncritical look at the band, which worried me at first: the violins from "Kiss Me, Son of God" started playing in my head. Fortunately, that isn't a valid criticism of this film. Schnack loves his Giants, but it's not like rock documentaries, for all their preening and scowling ("The Filth and the Fury" immediately comes to mind), really get down to smashing icons. John Flansburgh and John Linnell, to their credit, don't take a Johnny Rotten plunge into ego and self-congratulation: whatever you think of their music, the Johns seem perfectly affable and modest about their particular niche in pop culture.Despite that, "Gigantic" as a film is flawed. TMBG's story of non-conformists not conforming is worth telling, but Schnack's narrative is extremely choppy. He starts in their childhood, shoots out to New York, spends an inordinate amount of time on "Don't Let's Start," skips "Lincoln" and barrels into Elektra, all in the space of a few breathless minutes. You feel like you've just landed on your head when the segment on "Flood" begins, and you wish you could hear more about the East Village Club scene of the 80s, or the recording of the first albums.The interviews aren't especially well-edited, either, and Ira Glass and Sarah Vowell (no slam on their other work) go on too long about the uniqueness of TMBG, which has already been established by the time they appear. The film is saved in part by Schnack's sense of humor: he does a killer parody of Ken Burns at one point in the film. The Johns themselves -- funny, creative and immensely likeable -- are the great grace of "Gigantic." As Robert Krulwich says, they're secure in their "somethingness," and you gradually grow to admire their hard work and stubborn refusal to bow to label or audience. What's left at the end is an imperfect but unusual music film, one with little conflict but an inspiring point about being yourself, keeping your head and following your muse, an accomplishment few other professional bands can claim.Once you plunge into the remainder of the disc, though, the failings of "Gigantic" are quickly forgotten. The DVD is terrific, and not simply because of the quantity of extras: there's plenty of stuff diehards will enjoy, from concert chatter to an appearance on Nick Rocks in the late 80s, as well as an amusing and generally insightful commentary from Flansburgh, Linnell, Schnack and Vowell. Other extras, though, make the band's case for greatness in ways "Gigantic" alone could not: five of Adam Bernstein's groundbreaking videos for the band are showcased, with introductions from Bernstein and the Johns themselves. There's also rare and exhilarating footage of the two-man band performing "Mr. Me" and "Hide Away Folk Family" in Milwaukee in the late 80s. And, in a rare and laudable bit of generosity from musician to musician, you get Cub's original "New York City," a great song in its own right that got better in the Johns' rearrangement.A number of DVDs will add extras willy-nilly with little thought toward advancing the viewer's understanding of the film. "Gigantic" not only illuminates the film, but strengthens its argument: the features ultimately enhance the movie's point on the Johns' greatness. It's rare to see a DVD flesh out a film so well, and it's a shame we don't see it more."
Hammer down, rabbit ears!
Clare Quilty | a little pad in hawaii | 06/19/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"John Flansburgh and John Linnell burst onto the music scene in the mid-'80s as a two-man band with a name cribbed from an old George C. Scott movie: "They Might Be Giants."
Armed with accordions, clarinets, wicked guitars, tape loops, drum machines and voices like Big Bird, They Might Be Giants created their own hilariously geeky genre of music. They had catchy hooks to spare and a knack for existential, caffeinated Fisher-Price tongue-twisters and wordplay. Much like Brian Wilson once created what he called "pocket symphonies," the Giants made "pocket pop songs.""Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns" - doesn't give a clear,
chronological history of the band but does offer a refreshing look at two gifted musicians who usually hide behind their wall of sound and mirth.
Through clips of their live shows, videos and cogent interviews (with Flansburgh and Linnell, manager Jamie Kitman, former Pixie's frontman Frank Black, authors Dave Eggers and Sarah Vowell and others), the movie covers some of the Giants' best-known songs and the touchstones of their brief history: their formation and "do-it-yourself" early days; their Dial-A-Song service (basically an answering machine at Flansburgh's old apartment that offered a new song each day for free); the problems they encountered with their label during the grunge era; and their recent resurgence via the Internet.
As with anything of this sort, "Gigantic" isn't for nonfans (even for a moderate fan, the uniqueness of the Giants' music makes a little go a long way), but the group's countless devotees will be extremely pleased with the DVD and its giant's portion of extras.
This is how all music DVDs should be stocked: eight music videos; tons of deleted scenes and interviews; an audio presentation of their "This American Life" profile and the group's old TV appearances on "Joy Farm" and "Nick Rocks.""
What is not to love?
Gena Chereck | Nebraska, USA | 11/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Much has been made of the quirky touches that director A.J. Schnack gives his feature-film debut, Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns), a documentary about the alternative-pop duo They Might Be Giants. The band is well-known for working in a wide range of musical styles (punk and New Wave, power-pop, country, folk, jazz, etc.) and writing about subject matter that you don't normally expect to find in pop songs (cyclops, night-lights, puppet heads, Belgian painter James Ensor, president James K. Polk, etc.), and this film is often as clever and unpredictable as TMBG themselves. It begins with a speech from Illinois senator Paul Simon, and it includes a parody of Ken Burns' Civil War documentary somewhere in the middle, a scene in which a group of high school students try to interpret the lyrics of "Particle Man," and a few interludes in which such funnypeople as Harry Shearer, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Richter, and Michael McKean give dramatic readings of TMBG lyrics.Despite these unconventional touches, though, Gigantic's narrative arc is pretty straightforward. The two bandmates -- paunchy, bespectacled singer-guitarist John Flansburgh and wiry, floppy-haired singer-keyboardist-accordionist John Linnell -- take us from their school days in Lincoln, Massachusetts in the 1970s, to their move to Brooklyn in the early '80s and the performance-art scene out of which they formed TMBG, to the creation of their trademark "dial-a-song" service, through the latter half of the '80s when they became the most successful indie band of that time ("That's like being the world's tallest midget," Flansburgh remarks in an interview), through their move from an independent record label to the major label Elektra and their switch from a duo sound to a full-band sound in the first half of the '90s (much to the dismay of many of their early fans), up to their late-'90s film and TV work after they got dropped by Elektra. In addition to some terrific music-video clips and archival footage of the Johns, many of their former and current associates are on hand to help tell their story. Of course, there are a few too many fan testimonials, and there isn't a whole lot of information about the Johns' personal lives (although both Johns sport wedding bands, Linnell has a son named Henry, and Flansburgh's wife Robin is alluded to as the singer of "Dr. Evil," TMBG's song for 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me). This backstory is interwoven with scenes of the Johns in action, circa 2001: They record Mink Car, their first studio album in 5 years; they perform a big show at the Polish National Home (from which much of the film's concert footage was taken); they drop by Late Night With Conan O'Brien and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart; Flansburgh takes us into his home studio and records a dial-a-song demo; Linnell takes his son to the park and laments about not getting to see him much because of touring; and the Johns give an in-store performance at a Tower Records in New York to celebrate the midnight release of the Mink Car CD (in a sad coincidence, just hours before the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11). The film turns unexpectedly touching as the Johns each discuss what the other brings to the table (the showmanship and business smarts of the outgoing Flansburgh, the melodic gifts of the introverted Linnell) and open up about their own feelings of inadequacy (Flansburgh as a musician and songwriter, Linnell as an "essential" part of the band). Otherwise, the film refrains from taking itself too seriously, presenting the Johns not as great men, but as a couple of smart, adorable, funny, talented, independent-minded and basically decent guys who -- with their integrity, strong friendship and unique musical collaboration -- have managed to achieve success (however modest and unlikely) on their own terms for over 20 years. P.S.: I won't even try to describe the wealth of extra material included on this disc, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend everything under "bonus materials" (additional live performances, a few audio-only goodies, the hilarious promotional video for their 1990 LP Flood, etc.) and "music videos," as well as the 2 deleted scenes and the 3 extra Polish National Home performances; these are certainly worthy supplements to the film. The "raw footage and interviews" stuff is mostly hit-or-miss, although I enjoyed the "Doctor Worm" sound-check, the radio-show performance of "Cowtown," and the amusing exchange between Flansburgh and his wife about buying a new belt.P.P.S.: Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) has no MPAA rating, but I think it would merit a hard PG-13 or a light R for brief strong language. Ultimately, though, the Johns themselves come across as positive role models, and their story could be inspiring to older kids. I highly recommend this film for ages 14 and up."
John P Bernat | Kingsport, TN USA | 04/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When my nephew Tim did me the great favor of hooking me up with these two guys, I wondered what planet they came from. This and the other DVD make it obvious: Brooklyn.
What will you learn from this disc:
1. Creative people are obsessive. The output pours from one of our Johns like it did from Mozart. He almost cannot help it. There are simply people who exude creativity, and they cannot stop themselves.
2. The talents diverge and complement. You have a John who schmoozes and a John who stays back and creates. You have a tough John and a gentle John. You have a John with glasses and a John without glasses.
3. I've never heard anybody play around with musical form and poetry like these guys can.
A carp: why so little about Apollo 18?? That was one of their best, but it's shorted in the film."
The best Johns I know.
D S H | Upstate New York, United States | 06/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although it's not what I expected, this DVD is excellent. There is lots of great footage. Great guest stars like friends of Lincoln, Mass., Andy Richter, the 'Dial-a-Song lady', etc. Mainly the film consists of interviews and live concert footage. This was a bit of a let down, as I like to see the band going about their normal thing during documentaries (such like in Bittersweet Motel). Regardless, the excellent interviews and live footage make up for this weakness. A word on extras. The extras double the greatness of this DVD. There are plenty of great extras. It might actually take longer to get through all the extras than it takes to watch the film. The extras are a big part of this dvd: more interviews, audio clips, music videos, etc.If you're a TMBG fan, definitely pick up this DVD. You won't regret it."