The plethora of so-called ‘biopics’ seems to be dominating the conversation at small theatres, where regular programming is sometimes interrupted so that we can be treated to real films about real artists, people we truly love and admire so much. Being starved of more of their art – in most cases because they died young – and also because we are curious to know what made them tick, we will jump at anything that is likely to feed our abject hunger. Then, having satiated ourselves, we might reflect on the experience. It is then that we find that some of the experiences left us feeling us strangely empty either because what we just heard and/or saw was either misrepresented or not the whole truth, or, sadder still, a little bit of both. But now comes a biopic that breaks this mould. The Case of the Three Sided Dream is a frank, visceral film about the music and magic of the legendary reeds player Rahsaan Roland Kirk, made by Adam Kahan.
Kirk was an artistic anomaly who was born in 1942 and died just forty-two years later. However, in his short life he caused a stir in music and Black-Consciousness. He was vocal – very vocal – about being discriminated against, but his real energy and anger was channelled through his music and the myriad reeds – some expressly made for him – that he played, often simultaneously. It was the great bassist, Charles Mingus, with whom Kirk once played, who cautioned that Kirk ought never to be misunderstood as being a ‘circus-act’. Mingus always maintained that Kirk was a great musician whose time had probably not yet come. Indeed this is probably true and you cannot help feeling that way during the many dazzling moments if the film dedicated to Kirk’s performances. Like many of his peers, Rahsaan Roland Kirk played in small, luridly lit clubs. He probably made little to nothing for his efforts. But that never stopped him or led him to stray from the straight and narrow. He also had a knack of drawing attention to Jazz through mystically-titled recordings.
This film takes its name from one such recording by Kirk. The Case of the Three-Sided Dream was a 1975 double album produced by Joel Dorn properly entitled The Case of the Three-Sided Dream in Audio Color. Reviews at the time of its release heard a universal, deep, almost serene sound in the music, which, at the end of it all, was what set Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s music apart as it grew out of its bluesy roots to become something larger than life itself. In many ways, Kirk – like Sun Ra – traversed a different path as he reached out on his quest to express himself with the sheer purity of sound. This would explain his ceaseless search for an instrument, or instruments, which would play the music that he heard inside his head. The raw beauty of what came out of his horns was a result of that endless quest that took place somewhere between waking and sleeping as that is the only place you could ever imagine Kirk resided all the days of his life.
Using available footage and following the often surreal storyline Adam Kahan succeeds in making a film that captures almost all of what Kirk meant when he revealed his quest through the three-sided dream. Kahan pieces this together with footage of performances and important interviews with musicians who played with, but more than anything else, were close to the musician – Akua Dixon and Steve Turre, among them. The most revelatory moments, of course, come from Kirk’s wife, Dorthaan Kirk. Expertly editing footage that he had to work with Kahan has succeeded in piecing together a compelling story of the life and legend of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. While you may never fully understand what Kirk’s ‘dream’ was really about you come out of the screening feeling that you know him better: better for the music you heard, better for the things that those closest to him had to say about him and better for the film you just saw that seems to make his like’s journey complete.
Produced and Directed by: Adam Kahan
Edited by: Adam Kahan
Music by: Rahsaan Roland Kirk