The documentary film Old Man is as much a story of a troubled, perhaps marginally dysfunctional family as it is the story of a troubled record store — and, in many ways, a dysfunctional town. The portrait of Boulder is not graceful. It’s a critique of the town’s ability to win both for greatest number of advanced degrees per capita and for high incidence of teen suicide and drug use. That’s the context the film’s director Dan Schneidkraut leans on to make a far more personal story make sense — one that’s about his father, Andy, owner of the Boulder institution Albums on the Hill.
Dan says he initially thought to make a film about the record store, a dying breed in an online-driven music industry. Then he realized someone else had made a similar film, so he shifted gears to the ready subject of his father — possessor of an encyclopedic knowledge of music, as is well known, but also a poet, a law school drop out and a former restaurant owner.
“He isn’t a flawless human being, but that’s what makes him so incredible,” Dan says. “Despite consequences to himself, he’s always had good character, no matter what, and he’s always been a kind person, and he’s always been a generous person even though it didn’t always benefit him in business.”
Old Man does make a record of the store, the highs and lows of it as a retail operation among what was once a generous number of square footage devoted to the sale of music within Boulder’s city limits. But more than that, it’s a record of Andy himself, of Dan and his family, built with deep admiration for his father, whatever the plagues delivered upon them both during Dan’s teenage years. The film makes for a bracingly candid potrait that feels, predominantly, like spending an afternoon wandering around Boulder with the Schneidkrauts.
Albums on the Hill, Dan notes early and openly, is so far behind in rent that not even a going out of business sale could salvage it. The shop stocked with vinyl and CDs, and with bottles of alcohol and boxes of unsorted CDs hidden behind the storage closet doors, exists only by the grace of its landlord.
“I don’t know whether it’s an institution or I should be institutionalized,” Andy says during the film.
“I’m hanging in, somehow,” he tells Boulder Weekly. “Believe me, it’s a challenge and many factors knock it down, the biggest probably being just the change in the music business.”
He talks down now the damage sus tained to his business, and his home, during the September 2013 flood.
“Other people lost so much more in the flood,” he says, pointing to the resilient rebuilders in Lyons and Jamestown. “We lost the basement of our house and I lost a lot of online merchandise, inventory and a lot of my own personal collection of records. … Loads of people lost things, and weren’t able to rescue everything. And though I have a much nicer basement than we had before, we’re not… No matter what you do, you’re not made whole.”
After kicking off the film with the best and worst of the city in which he grew up, Dan turns to himself and makes a candid accounting of those darker parts of his past. The retelling of the crimes themselves is carefully measured because, he says, he’s not sure of the statute of limitations.
In doing so, Dan says, he hopes to give context for some of the grimmer interactions between father and son so that people see, as Dan says, “Any bad things that happened between him and I certainly had a lot to do with me being pretty horrible.”
Andy, though, sees his son painting these histories with a little darker cast than what he recalls. He cites the Rashomon effect — “we all bring our own vision of what transpired to examining our past, and all we can bring is our own sense of what this story is, but our own sense of what this story is, isn’t necessarily the story, but it’s got elements of it.”
It’s clear that Andy is indispensible to Dan, the filmmaker who stays behind the camera and narrates in near monotone through everything from his arrests to his acknowledgement that what he fears most in life is his father’s death.
“He’s not going to live forever, and it was important for me to get to know him and making a film was secondary, but that just happened to be the best way I know how to deal with the world or people,” Dan says.
Because Dan knew the stories, he could artfully steer the conversation into the level of candidness he wanted — as in, didn’t you break that guy’s arm? And yes, that fight did take a turn, and an arm did get broken, Andy concedes.
“He totally bullied me in the film,” Andy jokes. But seriously, he says, “I’m supportive of any film he wants to make, so I’m sure I had misgivings, but I just support his efforts.”
Dan was very candid, he says, and required that his father be as well. That part wasn’t tough, Andy says, as much as letting everyone else watch it now may be.