The unusual Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

A peculiar musician, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was also an unusual man. Shortly before his death, Greek director Nikos Triandafyllidis, a major fan, made a documentary depicting the musician’s singular personality. Titled I Put a Spell on Me, the documentary opened last Friday in Athenian cinemas. Using my dual capacity as director and music producer, I invited Hawkins to come to Greece for a series of performances. I introduced myself as a director, and I suggested making his portrait, an idea which, strangely enough, had never been brought up before, says Triandafyllidis. Once he realized that my intentions were good, he accepted my proposal, and so in September 1999, we shot in Athens. Following his death, I carried on with interviews, through which I tried to get in touch with him once again, this time through the eyes of those who loved him. I was not interested in an obituary. In Hawkins’s case the dramatic elements have nothing to do with death, but rather with racism and loneliness. This is not a film about his music, but about survival. My initial idea was to shoot a second round – something which I was not able to do eventually – I wanted him to reveal even more, and to show his great desire for singing opera. I was going to end the film with him singing ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Figaro.’ The relationship between Triandafyllidis and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins developed through a film. I first heard him in Jarmusch’s ‘Stranger than Paradise’ and nearly fell off my seat, says the director. I was instantly hooked on both the music and the man. Even though our era has no heroes, I keep mine all the way up there. Screamin’ became a catalyst in our culture, both through music and film. Yet what we define as mainstream has taken over everything and has marginalized all those who don’t fit the stereotypes. In that way, Hawkins also paid the price of the musical industry. Following the Hawkins tribute, Triandafyllidis is preparing yet another documentary, this time on 1960s garage punk, while his projects include another two non-documentary movies. One of them will take place in Astoria, while the other one’s main character is a store owner, trying to keep his store open all night. In terms of financing documentaries, new technology is a freeing factor, says the director. And although it used to be harder to shoot a documentary than a regular film, I now enjoy destroying the formalism of my previous films.

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