South by Southwest

AUSTIN -- Once upon a time, the painted rock demons of Kiss took off their makeup. The unmasking offered in "Bananaz" might be less iconic, but it has its pleasures, especially for the dedicated fans of Gorillaz, a platinum-selling rock/hip-hop group whose members are cartoon characters.

Theatrical prospects are limited, but a DVD release -- ideally in a package containing all the band's videos and assorted promo ephemera -- should do very well.

Not only does the documentary show fans the faces of the real musicians who voice the cartoon hitmakers (and of the many guests who have peppered their records, from De La Soul to Buena Vista Social Club singer Ibrahim Ferrer), it charts the combo's evolution almost from the moment of conception through the arrival of their second record release.

We watch amusedly as the artists squabble, for instance, over how they should handle phone interviews with reporters -- do them entirely in character? Is that too big an acting challenge to pull off? -- and as they suffer through the publicity demands that come with the first album's surprising success.

The film's focus is on the two men most responsible for Gorillaz: Damon Albarn of the Brit pop group Blur and nonmusician Jamie Hewlett, who supplies the cartoons. Viewers who don't arrive with a built-in devotion to the band might find the duo more than a little off-putting: Their humor is juvenile, the men are narcissistic, and their occasional stabs at real-world political relevance border on the laughable.

Director Ceri Levy, seemingly a buddy of his subjects, takes a fly-on-the-wall approach and never worries about explaining things to newcomers; he's laissez faire enough to let mumbled bits of speech zip by unintelligibly. But if the behind-the-scenes component doesn't work hard to win outsiders over, the subject has its own built-in appeal.

We see enough of Hewlett's flashy animation work -- music videos with a fresh look and an entertaining grab bag of pop culture influences (from zombie movies to Japanese animation) -- to keep us from getting bored and to explain how a fictional band scaled the pop charts.

Head Film
Sales agent: HanWay Films
Director: Ceri Levy
Producers: Rachel Connors, Ceri Levy
Director of photography: Ceri Levy
Music: Gorillaz
Editor: Seb Monk
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating