I Am Secretly an Important Man

Oct 06 - Oct 28, 2010

(Peter Sillen, 2010, USA, DigiBeta, 85 min)

Peter Sillen's documentary portrait of the guru of grunge, Steven (Jesse) Bernstein, undulates like a spoken-word performance. Known in the Seattle art and music scene as one of the most influential voices of the late twentieth century, Bernstein was a poet and performance artist who recorded with Sub Pop Records and inspired Kurt Cobain, Oliver Stone and many other writers, filmmakers and grunge and punk musicians.

Bernstein performed stories and songs about society’s fringes—angry, tender and sometimes corrosively humorous portraits of drifters, junkies and ex-cons. His mentor, William Burroughs, said of his writing, "The work is deeply felt...Bernstein has been there and brought it back. Bernstein is a writer."

I Am Secretly an Important Man recently screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

"I, for one, have been waiting FOREVER to see this film.  I said it before, and I'll say it again: Even though he was born in LA, he was truly Seattle's son. Don't miss it!" —KellyO, The Stranger

"Director Peter Sillen cuts seamlessly from archival material—color- saturated footage of Bernstein ambling down his fire escape—to grayer, present-day Seattle, as Bernstein recites poetry over Steve Fisk's jazz loops or those who knew the poet speak about him in voice-over. Interviews with contemporaries such as Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop, Slim Moon of Kill Rock Stars, as well as Bernstein's family and friends, range from the requisite mythmaking (he was the "godfather of grunge," "a real outsider") to stranger moments: an ex talking about the seizures he suffered says the doctors thought Bernstein's brain was too big for his skull, his two grown sons playing a marimba together. But the film is at its best when Bernstein is on-screen or at least audible, his snarling, nasal monotone and acerbic verse as naggingly charismatic as it must have been then." —The Stranger

"[Director Sillen] brings considerable empathy to Bernstein's oddball life—without seeking to explain it or fill in all the gaps. Whether he's a grunge footnote, a beatnik wannabe, or a beautiful, belated loser, the film allows you to decide." —Seattle Weekly


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