'Between Me and My Mind': Film Review | Tribeca 2019

Jamie Schutz
An answered prayer for Phish Heads.

The personal and professional lives of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio are profiled in Steven Cantor's documentary.

Steve Cantor's documentary about Trey Anastasio will hardly stir up the sort of controversy engendered by similar films. It actually begins with the rocker making a cup of coffee and ends with a scene of domestic bliss over a home-cooked meal. That tells you all you need to know. As it profiles the frontman of the hugely popular band Phish, Between Me and My Mind delivers a portrait that makes for a perfectly nice film about a hard-working rock star who actually seems sane and well-adjusted. Judging by the ecstatic reactions at the pic's world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the band's rabid fan base will be enthralled. Those less familiar with Phish and Anastasio's solo work may find the doc less than riveting.

The film adopts a fly-on-the-wall approach to its subject, following him relaxing and composing at home; working at the massive rural recording studio dubbed "The Barn"; meeting with friends and family members; and revisiting old haunts such as Burlington, Vermont, where he attended university and met the woman to whom he's been married for more than 35 years. We also see him laying down tracks for the recently released Ghosts in the Forest, an album inspired by the death of one of his closest friends, and preparing for one of Phish's annual New Year's Eve concerts at Madison Square Garden.

Anastasio notes in the film that's he been playing with his bandmates for 35 years; while the group broke up for a lengthy period in 2004, they've since reunited and are going stronger than ever. They certainly all seem on the best of terms here, with Anastasio working with drummer Jon Fishman on his latest project and visiting bassist Mike Gordon and keyboardist Page McConnell at their homes. The latter admits that the band went through a period of discord, but says all is fine now. "It's fun again," he comments about working with his longtime collaborators.

At times, Between Me and My Mind (the title comes from the lyrics of a Phish song) resembles a family therapy session. Anastasio has a lengthy chat with his mother Dina, the two of them sitting on a New York City park bench featuring a plaque memorizing his late sister, Kristy. "You must have been born with too many notes in your brain," Dina comments about his prolific composing. He visits his father Ernest in New Jersey, the latter expressing mild irritation at the fans who approach his son asking for photos while the two of them are walking down the street. "This happens all the time," Ernest says grumpily. During a chat over ice cream, Ernest tells him, "I was proud of you before anyone other than me knew who you were."

Strolling and holding hands with his wife Susan on an Asbury Park boardwalk, Anastasio asks her, "Do you ever regret marrying me?" She assures him that she doesn't, in one of the film's many feel-good moments. At another point, talking with one of his grown daughters, he asks about her upbringing, "Do you wish anything was different?" Once again, the answer is no, and by now you're starting to wonder if these discussions would have been better held in private.

At times, the proceedings are permeated with so much sweetness that it all seems too good to be true. When Anastasio makes an unannounced visit to the modest Vermont home where he once lived, he's greeted warmly by the current inhabitants, a couple and their two young children. "I used to live here," he says to the two kids who are impressed to learn that he wrote one of Phish's best-known songs in their upstairs bedroom. The young girl promptly calls it up on her phone, and Anastasio sings along to the recording. As you might imagine, a little of this goes a long way.

The domestic scenes are broken up by footage of rehearsals and recording sessions in which Anastasio, Fishman and bassist Tony Markellis work on Ghosts of the Forest material. The emotional resonance of the songs is enhanced by scenes in which Anastasio jokes around with Chris "CCott" Cottrell, a friend since childhood who was undergoing treatment for stage 4 cancer. One of the film's most moving moments shows Anastasio quietly playing guitar for a barely conscious Cottrell in the hospital, just two days before his death.

Although fleeting references are made to Anastasio's past substance abuse problems, it's clear that he's currently living a happy life both personally and professionally. Toward the end, we see footage of Phish's New Year's Eve show at the Garden in which the band breaks out into "Auld Lang Syne" at the stroke of midnight. In a voiceover, Anastasio, referring to his relentless schedule, proclaims "I'm never gonna stop!" The audience at the world premiere screening, you won't be surprised to learn, burst into cheers.

Production company: Stick Figure Productions
Director: Steven Cantor
Producer: Jamie Schutz
Executive producers: Andrew Andonov, Alex Blavatnik, Dan Goodman, Brian Hunt, Martin Kogan, William H. Masterson III, Jon Neidich, Jason Offor, Ben Pritzker
Director of photography: Johnny St. Ours
Editor: John Wayland
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival

100 minutes