The Icarus Line Must Die is a narrative whose roots are embedded in documentary and the underground Los Angeles music scene. Director Michael Grodner also brings a No Wave Cinema aesthetic to the playground, and even with these myriad of influences, The Icarus Line Must Die thankfully carves a singular path.
Co-written and headlined by Joe Cardamone, The Icarus Line centers on Cardamone’s exhaustive efforts to keep his band in the proverbial game, even if the odds are stacked against him. Though Cardamone and his outfit have received their share of praise (one of the group’s tours included opening for Stone Temple Pilots), this may be the end of the line.
Music simply doesn’t pay Cardamone’s bills, and even though he oversees a recording studio much of that time is spent nurturing bands sans money or recording music with his talented and unpredictable friend Annie Hardy. Punk rock icon Keith Morris (Black Flag, The Circle Jerks), Ariel Pink (as one of Cardamone’s ex bandmates) and writer Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight) are among the figures who weave in and out of Cardamone’s life as he tries to simply survive another day in Highland Park, Ca.
Highland Park is a sprawling and diverse section of Los Angeles, filled with artists, suburbanites (hence the gentrification), and generations of families give the area its lifeblood. While the film doesn’t offer an expansive look at the area, the fly on the wall approach in capturing Cardamone’s struggles (and his disarming hopefulness) infuse the storyline with welcome texture.
Though director Michael Grodner delivers his share of visually striking moments, the black and white film is confidently unadorned in its approach. Filling the movie with mainly non-actors (most of them playing themselves) may deter some viewers with its lack of Hollywood star power, but neorealism is the correct order of the day with The Icarus Line Must Die. I wasn’t hooked during the opening moments (when Cardamone has an interview with Kat Corbett), believing the flick would be a pretentious and over baked look at the struggles of an artist. Thankfully, I was dead wrong in my early assessment.
The Icarus Line Must Die doesn’t hit you over the head with a played out message, as it’s much more concerned with documenting people who simply live and breathe music. None of the musicians and artists deliver showy monologues about the importance of what they do, and while Cardamone could have used this film as a blatant vanity project, he opts for something more honest and sublime.
The Icarus Line member Alvin DeGuzman and Ron Paulson (aka rapper Cadalack Ron) have since passed, and it’s great to see each of them have standout moments in the feature. Though it’s not a documentary and is anchored by a storytelling trope (Cardamone is being threatened by a stalker who wants him dead), there is a ton of truth behind The Icarus Line Must Die. Tragedy may also be a part of the film’s DNA, but there’s also enough humor (especially from Hardy) to get you through the story’s darker moments.
After watching Cardamone’s personal account of his life and friends, I know the music will live on in some form on another, even if fate deals these rockers an unforgiving hand. A deceptively immersive tale that’s comfortable amidst its lo-fi trimmings, The Icarus Line Must Die may keep you hooked even after the final notes are played.
Rating 4 out of 5
****The Icarus Line Must Die hits digital platforms on July 10.