Ahead of the premiere screening of his new film, Todd Who?, at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, I sat down with filmmaker and film critic Gavin Bond to discuss two things. Firstly, I wanted to know what inspired his love of cinema. And secondly, I wanted to know more about how his life-long obsession with American musician Todd Rundgren resulted in a documentary.
Gavin’s film, which takes a distinctly Australian angle in its examination of one of rock’s lesser-known pioneers, is the culmination of thirty years of adoration and absolute frustration at Rundgren’s virtual anonymity in Australia.
Tell me a little bit about your background as a critic and as a filmmaker?
As a youngster in the dim, dark ages I was interested in being a filmmaker but I didn’t initially pursue it because it’s quite a difficult field to get into. I ended up doing a teaching degree, and became a primary school teacher and a deputy principal for quite a few years.
Then in 2000, some friends and I took advantage of public access television and started a show on Channel 31 in Perth. That’s where I got my love of film back again, and we ended up running for over 400 episodes until about 2008 when the station went under. We had a lot of guests… directors coming into town and people like that. From there I ended up scoring a film-reviewing job with the Sunday Times here in Perth, which I still do. And that’s what gave me the impetus to start my own film. My mate and I, who did the show with me, decided it was about time.
And your first film was Buff in 2012?
Correct, yeah. Buff was a quirky documentary in which I interviewed mainly Perth based film reviewers, film geeks and friends. We interviewed David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz too [the Australian equivalent of Ebert and Roeper for non-Australian readers]. We asked what got them into movies, and what their favourite and least-favourite movies were. It was a practice piece for me but also a bit of a passion. I narrated about being a film buff and that sort of thing.
So tell me a bit about this guy, Todd Rundgren?
Well, my other obsession apart from films was always Todd Rundgren. I discovered him in the early 1980s in my late teens or early twenties. He’s an underappreciated, underrated, undervalued and unfortunately unknown musical genius. Well, I think he’s unknown. Certainly in Australia he is. He’s a rock musician first and foremost, and a singer/song writer. It’s been so rewarding being a fan of his, but also frustrating because I’ve always felt like nobody knows who he is and it’s unfair.
How did you go about making the film? Just looking at the trailer I can see quite a few big names in there, from Molly Meldrum all the way to Paul Schaffer.
Well this is guerrilla filmmaking on a micro-budget. I’d always wanted to write a book about Todd after going to the USA but it was difficult. However, after having a go at Buff, I thought it would be worth having a shot at a film about Todd.
Then when Perth’s annual telethon was here, Molly Meldrum and Daryl Braithwaite came to town. Molly had liked one of his songs and I knew Daryl had covered one of them. That’s what kind of set the film off for me. I thought that if I could score an interview with those guys, then we’d have something. So I hung out in their hotel lobby… anyway they were both really friendly and both bigger fans than I thought, which was a bit of a thrill for me.
Once I’d interviewed those guys that kind of set things in motion. Todd Hunter from the band Dragon was in town at some point. Rundgren had produced an album for Dragon so I interviewed him. And then, fortunately for me, Rundgren toured the eastern states of Australia in 2013. So I headed over and saw him play at Lizottes in Newcastle. I was able to interview Davey Lane who was supporting Todd, and then interview Todd briefly.
I tracked down Paul Schaffer while we were in the US, who had been a big fan. We got a few interviews with people in America. We got a few crushing rejections too!
So for the uninitiated, if you wanted to introduce people into the world of Todd Rundgren, what are the songs you would point them to?
Can We Still Be Friends (1978) is still my favourite song of all time. It was a big hit here in Australia, so most people will have heard it before. I’d also suggest I Saw the Light (1972), another song most people have heard as well, but they all think it’s a Carole King song or something like that.
But if I really wanted to get people turned on I’d probably recommend two albums. The first is the 1972 masterpiece, Something/Anything, a double album in which he plays every instrument and produces everything on three of the four sides. There’s also A Wizard, a True Star (1973), a psychedelic masterpiece that I’m a big fan of. All of that kind of captures his two sides, the balladeer and the psychedelic experimenter.
In the trailer it’s also mentioned that he produced Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album?
Yeah, in the 70s and 80s he was a big record producer. A lot of people in the industry know his name. The story is that everybody rejected the album, but Todd liked it and had his own studio in New York. He said he’d make it, produce it… he even plays guitar on it. He turned it into more of a rock album because it was closer to a Broadway style composition initially. He’s said in interviews that he never thought it would be successful, he just thought it was a fun activity. It became a huge album though, partly because it was so well promoted and Meatloaf toured incessantly. But Rundgren has produced over fifty albums and the film goes into some detail about that.
What were some of the other bigger albums he produced?
He did an album for Bad Finger, which George Harrison was producing. Todd ended up taking over that production. He produced the first album of the New York Dolls’ first self-titled album, which was kind of the birth of punk in 1973. Skylarking by XTC was a classic. Patti Smith’s Wave album in 1979. But there are lots!
Tickets for Todd Who? are available at: http://www.moshtix.com.au/mdff
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