!f Film Fest Review of Theory of Obscurity: A Film about The Residents

Director: Don Hardy
Release date:18 March 2015
Cast: The Residents, Matt Groening, Penn Jilette, Jerry Harrison, Les Claypool.

Showing on the first day of the 15th !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival, the Theory of Obscurity: A Film about The Residents is a documentary about a masked band who have kept their identities secret for almost 40 years, since their first album was released in 1974.


Unlike other music documentaries that try to dig up the personal side of the artist – a side that is rarely found while they perform onscreen – Theory of Obscurity tells a story that is still clouded in mystery. The Residents’ identity remains unknown, their fans still questioning: who are these people behind the masks? Some people speculate on famous names, such as Bono, George Harrison or Eddie Van Halen, as being behind The Residents. Many details surrounding the group are kept in secret: the band members never do interviews or give autographs without being in costume. Their trademark look was tuxedos and giant eyeball heads, until a fan successfully stole one of the heads and they changed their costume to a different mask and Santa suit.

The director of the documentary, Don Hardy, works hard to solve the riddle of their identity and tries to suffocate the longing and curiosity of the fans by interviewing some collaborators, the band’s management team Kryptic Corporations, fans and another artist who had been working with them to reveal the journey of the group, as well as exploring the artwork and the eccentric side of the band.

The movie also includes footage of the band’s first performance at the Boarding House in San Francisco, as well as some music-video and concert clips. In one of the clips, the lead performer, who called himself Randy, announced to the audience, “We never thought we would have another concert, but now we are touring around Europe.”

“There are no limitations on performance art” seems a suitable slogan to describe the unique and weird style of The Residents. As long as their identity remains unknown, people will be focused on the art that they created, and that is how they got respect from their fans. They present something that is outside the box and are noted for their surrealistic lyrics and theatrical concert performances with different artists.

In the end, this documentary is well worth seeing, not just for the fans who already support them but for everyone who wants an inside view of one of the most prominent bands in art history. Today, you can visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York where all the band’s artwork, album, cd-rom and giant eyeball heads are kept in a 28-cubic-foot refrigerator.

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