As much the chronicle of a band struggling with its direction as it is a critique of the corporate-run music industry, Sam Jones' documentary "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" follows alt-country/rock outfit Wilco through the recording of its acclaimed fourth album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
Extensive studio/loft scenes show the band's creative processes -- or should we say creative differences -- in action. We see how seriously these musicians take their craft, and how exasperating the recording process can be on a working unit. One of the more discomfiting yet poignant moments documents the argument that leads to longtime collaborator Jay Bennett's dismissal from the band.
"I just want you to understand me," Bennett insists. Bandleader and principal songwriter Jeff Tweedy's retort: "I don't have to understand you all the time."
Equally important to the film's dramatic thrust is Wilco's discharge from Reprise Records, a label known for its artist-friendly deportment. The band turns in the finished "YHF," only to have label execs deem the record "uncommercial" and demand that the band rerecord it. They decline. The label dumps the band, but allows Wilco to retain full rights to "YHF." After an extensive bidding war, Nonesuch Records scoops up the act -- the coup being that Nonesuch, like Reprise, is owned by parent company AOL/Time Warner. Wilco's manager, Tony Margherita, pinpoints the irony of the situation: "[The label] hated this record so much, they paid for it three times."
"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" benefits from Jones' fly-on-the-wall perspective. By candidly detailing the politics involved in the creation of an extraordinary piece of music, he calls our attention to the inherent conflict between commerce and creativity. Plus, we get to watch Wilco stick it to their record label, and that's pretty gratifying, too.
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