Call it the cinematic equivalent of turning a sow's ear into a silk purse. Director Jonathan Demme, represented on screens with the hugely different and mammoth Beloved, has here a modest concert film about a modest artist that is immodestly and remarkably seductive. Shot in an East Village store, with floor-to-ceiling windows serving as backdrop, Storefront Hitchcock captures Robyn Hitchcock delivering 15 of his songs, many of which have Hitchcock's wraparound patter, alternately poetic, droll, fanciful and politically engaged.
The production, on paper, sounds bare-boned. Hitchcock's only backup-and on just a few numbers-is Deni Bonet on violin and Tim Keegan, who accompanies on other songs with guitar and backing vocals. The background-unless curtains are drawn-is an anonymous New York street with people, cars and buses passing. Hitchcock is on a practically bare set, except for occasional use of a bulb or a ballroom-type light reflector illuminating the puny proscenium. And Demme never stoops to give us shots of whoever might comprise Hitchcock's audience.
Instead, both the mesmerizing Hitchcock-part Donovan, Dylan, Lennon and McCartney-and the obscenely handsome production engage and transport. From folky material to a few pulsating rock tunes, Hitchcock, usually on acoustic guitar, is the consummate artist. His chiseled looks are as easy to take as his riffy sounds; his whimsical tales are as winning as his caring politics.
Demme's ingenuity is in knowing the quality of the talent he is allowed to work with and in understanding how to most appropriately and exquisitely present that talent. Storefront Hitchcock will win the Brit performer a lot more fans, provided they are wooed into the multiplex 'store.'