Stephin Merritt, the inscrutable and reluctant frontman of Magnetic Fields, is short, gay, and owns a chihuahua. Otherwise, details are scarce.
Rightly placed among the greatest songwriters of his generation, he has never given a satisfactory interview. So filmmakers Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara are left, between monosyllabic grunts by their subject, to piece together a portrait from impressionistic glimpses and the testimony of famous fans. Slim stuff for biography, but make no mistake: this is the most penetrating portrait of Merritt to date.
For that, thank Claudia Gonson, Merritt’s long-time collaborator, manager, and enabler, who is the film’s emotional center. When Merritt moves to California to write for Hollywood, leaving her behind in NYC and the band’s future in limbo, you get a sense of how irreplaceable he’s been in her life — and also a taste of just how callous a presence he can be in the lives of his few friends.