Icarus Line Must Die review Joe Cardamone Charlotte CardamoneYear: 2018
Director(s): Michael Grodner
Writer(s): Michael Grodner, Joe Cardamone
Region of Origin: USA

Rating: n/a
Black and white, 80 mins

Synopsis: The life and times of The Icarus Line. 

Amidst Los Angeles’ dense music scene, The Icarus Line is the stuff of legend. During their almost two decade lifespan, the band flirted with major label success, went through more than a dozen members, lost one to cancer and gained a reputation for unhinged live performances. In essence, this band went through hell but still managed to leave behind a legacy of seething rock and roll. After an unceremonious breakup, The Icarus Line Must Die is a surreal parting gift. Directed by Michael Grodner, and with close collaboration from frontman and star Joe Cardamone, the film lies somewhere between documentary and fictionalized narrative. In addition to the inevitable rockstar cameos and candid performances, the film is a poignant look at chasing the dream and how quickly things change in Los Angeles’ overcrowded city of hopefuls and burnouts.

The Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone is at a crossroads. After weathering a rollercoaster of ups and downs, what happens next could either tip the balance for his band, or be the final nail in the coffin. Things aren’t looking up, though. The Icarus Line can’t find a label to release their new album, Cardamone’s recording studio can’t find any paying clients, and as the singer preps for his wedding, an unknown future is causing fractures between him and his fiancée. And that’s not even taking into account the anonymous death threats. Over the course of a few days, the film draws fact into fiction, presenting an odyssey through Los Angeles’ difficult but exciting music scene.

Lensed in moody black-in-white and replete with nightmarish interludes, Grodner’s film is a fly-in-the-wall account that humanizes a band whose stories have often reached mythical proportion. With Cardamone front and center, the film’s impressionistic plot explores the intersection between art, commerce and personal integrity, showing the difficulty of finding a balance between each. As Cardamone restlessly zips across town for a myriad of errands (or soul searching), the film comes alive through its numerous cameos. Justin Pearson and Retox show up for an impromptu performance. Annie Hardy tries to sell Cardamone on aliens and an impending apocalypse. Ariel Pink attempts to join the band as a hapless wannabe, and Keith Morris has a few heart-to-hearts that are as unexpected as they are endearing. On that note, the easy highlights are the frank conversations that Cardamone has with his wife, Charlotte, and the few, too-brief moments with former Icarus guitar player, the late Alvin DeGuzman. In the best way, the film steers clear of any distinct classification, blending paranoia with sobering truth while forming a poignant portrait one of modern rock’s most unhinged bands.

Icarus Line Must Die Joe CardamoneSince much of the film is centered around a series of progressively strange encounters, the film’s charm comes from its cast, who are all playing slightly heightened versions of themselves. As the lead, Cardamone’s soft-spoken delivery is a stark contrast to the howling of his alter ego, lending the film a unique angle that feels honest. As his wife in both real life and the film, Charlotte Cardamone is one of the film’s secret weapons, offering up a few moments of levity and lending weight to Joe’s inner turmoil. All in all, the film is a parade of eccentricity that keeps us guessing.

It’s hard to say if The Icarus Line Must Die will appeal to casual viewers, but for fans, it’s a fitting goodbye. The film constantly has one foot in reality, another in self-effacing satire, offering a more ponderous look at a band known for pushing their limits. As far as faux-rockumentaries go, Grodner’s film is an atmospheric dose of existential dread and jagged sincerity. The film starts with a howl and ends with a bang, and for these punk Los Angeles’ icons, no other way would suffice.