Joe Cardamone, frontman of the famed Los Angeles punk band The Icarus Line (1998-2015), co-wrote (with director Michael Grodner) and stars in The Icarus Line Must Die, an intriguing film that blends elements of documentary with drama. Though it can be meandering at times, the movie is a mostly absorbing love letter to the L.A. post-punk scene.
The performances from the cast of non-professionals range from adequate to amusingly dodgy, but it somehow adds to the charm. The fact that many of these people are actually friends in real life also lends authenticity. Their scenes feel almost improvised, recalling the work of Allison Anders and John Cassavetes.
As the film opens, The Icarus Line is no longer, and Joe is struggling, financially and musically. He’s trying to sell an album nobody wants while allowing other musicians to use his Burbank studio without paying for the time. To make matters worse, he keeps receiving text messages from an unknown source threatening his life. The one bright spot in his life is his wife (Charlotte Cardamone), who provides emotional support while keeping their bills paid.
He spends his days wandering through Los Angeles, occasionally dropping in on friends and acquaintances. Other musicians appear in brief cameos, including Ariel Pink, Keith Morris, Pearl Charles, Melissa Brooks and Rafael Reyes.
Although the underdeveloped death-threat subplot is peculiar, the film otherwise convincingly conveys a day in the life of an idle Angeleno, as Joe travels from haunt to haunt and hangs out. He’s a man at sea — far from done yet, he’s looking for a way to get his life started again.
Considering the band’s fiery reputation, The Icarus Line Must Die becomes a rather elegiac portrait of these notorious musicians. Adding unintended poignancy to the film are Joe’s scenes with former Icarus Line guitarist Alvin DeGuzman, who died last year after a long battle with bone cancer. In fact, in a scene near the end of the film, DeGuzman talks about his disease being in remission.
The film is far from being a downer, though, as it features some electrifying concert scenes and a dash of welcome humor. Cardamone and Grodner have some fun sending up some of the more familiar, quirky characters of the L.A. music world.
Jacob Mendell’s chiaroscuro photography is highly appropriate for the subject, making the city look like a place out of another time. Cardamone provided the incidental music in addition to some songs on the soundtrack. Also welcome are tracks by The Icarus Line’s contemporaries, including Retox and Oneida. Most welcomingly, Cardamone himself takes to the stage a few times, reminding the viewer of his still-vibrant talent.
Fans of L.A.’s punk/hardcore milieu will most appreciate The Icarus Line Must Die. They will certainly be able to relate to these people and their attitudes.
The Icarus Line Must Die opens June 22 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, Los Angeles. The film will be available on digital on July 10 via iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Fandango Now, Xbox and local cable providers.