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Originally published Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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'Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film': Musician is still a mystery

A review of "Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film," about the 46-year-old experimental singer/songwriter — who's truly worthy of a documentary portrait.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film,' a music documentary directed by Hanly Banks. 61 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Grand Illusion.

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To the extent that he is revealed in "Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film," the 46-year-old singer/songwriter seems determined to remain an enigma. In this regard he recalls the mid-'60s Bob Dylan, notorious among journalists as "an impossible interview." But in Callahan's case, there's no sense of pretense or deliberate evasiveness. By nature he's just not very articulate, which at least partially explains the deep, alluring mystery of his music, in which mood and expressiveness reign supreme.

Callahan, who previously toured and recorded under the band name Smog, is nothing if not strangely magnetic on stage. Filmmaker Hanly Banks followed Callahan for two weeks during his 2011 tour to promote his LP "Apocalypse," and the results are a mixed bag: Callahan's performance (along with guitarist Matt Kinsey and drummer Neal Morgan) is utterly mesmerizing, but everything else about the film is vague and aimless. If Banks wanted to recruit new Callahan fans, she has probably succeeded. If she was aiming for a deeper understanding of the man and his music, she clearly fell short of that target.

Still, we can only be grateful for Banks' one-hour portrait (financed through online sources like Kickstarter), regardless of its lack of real depth. Callahan is entirely worthy of Banks' fascination, and his underground status keeps him thriving outside the mainstream. There's some boldly unconventional creativity happening here, but it's coming from the subject, not the filmmaker.

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