“The poetry of finding your own voice singing a song your father wrote about you…it’s too wonderful not to put in a movie.” Daniel Algrant regards New York City from his terrace, a stone’s throw from streets where Jeff and Tim Buckley sullenly sauntered, with songs in their heads and no real idea of each other. Director Algrant makes us reacquainted with father and son in Greetings From Tim Buckley.
Following a young Jeff Buckley (Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley) around 1990s NYC, Greetings From Tim Buckley is a jubilant, nostalgic look at the days before the infamous 1991 tribute concert for locally-loved late folk legend Tim Buckley, estranged father of would-be falsetto wunderkind Jeff. Rather than delving into a textbook biopic centered around Jeff’s 1994 opus Grace and his tragic drowning, Algrant saw a more focused opportunity to celebrate both Buckleys.
“I mean, I was supposed to make a film about Jeff Buckley,” he says. “I heard Jeff play, you know, recorded, and I became very intrigued with his brilliance, his talent. But I became personally interested in making the film when I understood the story was really going to be about Jeff and the relationship with his father, with whom he really didn’t spend any time.”
Tim Buckley is often overshadowed by the Bob Dylans and Joni Mitchells of his generation (and later his son). Algrant feels more dues should be paid to Buckley. “[‘Once I Was’] is arguably one of the more important songs from that period and people have forgotten that. I mean, ‘Once I Was’ should be our national anthem.” Audiences become fondly reintroduced as Jeff learns his deceased father’s work. “I tried to have the film be a jukebox of Tim Buckley,” says Algrant. “In a sense, Jeff had that jukebox running through his head, all of Tim’s songs… He knew every note, he knew every word and every letter.”
With a barrel-scraping budget and strapped shooting schedule, Greetings From Tim Buckley leads up to one heart-hugging culmination, the legendary benefit concert at St. Ann’s Cathedral for Tim, where Jeff made his public singing debut. Algrant actually recreated the concert, shot over three days with a 300-strong audience and performed live by Badgley and several of the musicians, including ‘Grace’ and ‘Mojo Pin’ co-writer Gary Lucas, who played there the first time. “It was suicidal,” says Algrant. “I just said, fuck it. We’re going to make a movie about an indie rocker in New York who died and he’s not here, his father who died and he’s not here, and we don’t have any money. What we could have is the possibility of taking real actors and doing it live, so that they’re going through essentially what [Jeff] went through.”
Life blatantly imitated art with the purely shower-singing, casually guitar-playing Badgley learning the music of Tim and Jeff Buckley without either’s advice. The parallels between both Badgley and Jeff’s discovery of Tim are rather charming, both having never played in public before the concert. “Penn Badgley was just in a perfect place to do this,” says Algrant. “He doesn’t have the same range of course as Jeff or Tim…and when he sang “Once I Was” that’s the first time he ever sang it through, ever.”
The search for a Jeff Buckley made headlines and hashtags worldwide, with everyone from James Franco to Robert Pattinson rumoured for the role. After hundreds of auditions, Algrant snuffled out 26-year-old Badgley. “This tape came in… Penn auditioning the record store scene. He was the only person who actually took that scene on. He makes tonnes of mistakes, he’s writhing around on the floor, but he sings all of it and he does this Led Zeppelin thing that was just crazy, ambitious and exquisite. And I said, that’’s the guy.”
BY SHANNON CONNELLAN
Greetings From Tim Buckley opens in cinemas on Thursday August 1.