It's About You, John Mellencamp Tour Documentary, Premieres at South by Southwest

Vanity Fair By Bennett Allen

In the opening sequence of the new documentary, It’s About You, John Mellencamp describes his experience on a photo shoot with the doc’s director, Kurt Markus. “What the fuck are you doing?” Mellencamp shouts. To which Markus (apparently) calmly replied, “Waiting for the light to hit.” Adding any staged lighting would be “cheating”—a belief that perfectly articulates Markus’s vision for It’s About You. No frills, no gimmicks, no artificial help—just him, his camera, John, and, as he puts it, “some kick-ass music.”

First and foremost, Markus is a photographer. Over his nearly 40-year-long career, before he considered approaching film, his work appeared in Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Texas Monthly, and Esquire. He photographed campaigns for Armani, BMW, Calvin Klein, Sony, and Nike, and his fine art has shown in galleries in New York, Berlin, and Milan. He now adds filmmaker to his résumé with the premiere of It’s About You, which traces Mellencamp’s tour during the summer of 2009. The film also documents the recording of the musician’s most recent album, 2010’s No Better Than This, the sessions for which occurred at American musical and historical landmarks, including Sun Studio, in Memphis; the First African Baptist Church, in Savannah; and the Gunter Hotel, in San Antonio. A clip:

Kurt and his son Ian shot the film on a Super 8 camera, which creates the gauzy, vintage texture and washed-out colors. Super 8 is notoriously difficult to use—if the light is too low, the picture disappears; too high, and it’s whitewashed. Plus, about every three minutes, Kurt and Ian had to stop shooting and load a new reel, which presents a problem when filming a cross-country rock tour.

The finished film debuts Saturday, March 12, at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. Following a screening of the film, Kurt and Ian will lead a panel discussion about It’s About You and Super 8 film.