Tony Ladesich’s film “Two Sisters” may have found its perfect home.
His award-winning 12-minute movie will be the centerpiece of the fourth annual Murder Ballad Ball, an evening of music that honors songs about love and homicide.
“I really don’t think it has had a real, proper coming-out showing in Kansas City yet,” Ladesich said.
Saturday’s showing could be its grandest yet.
The film is based on an ages-old Scots-Irish murder ballad originally called “The Sisters Twa.”
“There are many versions of it,” Ladesich said. “One is called 'Wind and Rain.' The first version of that I heard was by Gillian Welch, and I traced that back a few steps that included a version by Jerry Garcia and Vassar Clemens. They are virtually identical. But Gillian Welch’s version is the one that really destroyed me. It was so creepy.”
It also turned out to be a catalyst. For years, Ladesich had been contemplating the idea of making some kind of film about the murder ballad tradition. It was prompted by the cultural uproar that followed release of the Eminem song “Kim,” in which he kills his wife.
“I remember thinking, ‘Have you not been paying attention?’ ” he said. “This tradition goes back hundreds of years. A lot of those objecting the most were country music fans. That’s where this tradition started. I thought it would be interesting to take a traditional murder ballad and visualize and go, ‘Here is what you’re hearing.’ I thought visualizing it would add another layer of creepiness to it.”
He wrote a couple of original verses to the song, added some verses from older versions and made the couple married (they aren’t in the Welch version). He then went looking for cast members, but not in the usual places.
“I wanted all actors to be musicians first and actors second,” he said.
His cast comprises Mark Smeltzer, Richard Alwyn, Kasey Rausch and Erin McGrane. Off-camera he also enlisted singer/songwriter Mikal Shapiro as an executive producer. Fiddler Betse Ellis, formerly of the Wilders, is part of the film’s score.
“Erin is a great actress who is also a musician,” Ladesich said. “Kasey is not an actress; Mark is not an actor; Richard is a musician who is also an actor. It’s kind of an ‘anti-film.’”
Saturday will also be a coming-out of sorts for Ladesich, who is also a musician and songwriter. For the fourth year in a row, he will perform at the ball. This time he will feature his new band, the Secret Liquor Cure with Ben Ruth (bass), Kyle Dahlquist (accordion and pedal-steel guitar) and Sam Platt (drums).
Ladesich has been in a few local bands, including Sandoval, Pendergast and Faster Horses. Several years ago, he withdrew from the music scene to focus on filmmaking and videography.
“I’m able to make a decent living as a filmmaker, which is hard to do as a musician,” he said. “My creativity comes quicker as a filmmaker; its easier to come up with visual ideas than write good songs.”
All the musicians in the film will perform at the ball. So will Ellis and Shapiro. This year’s performance represents a revival of sorts for Ladesich.
“I went to New Orleans for nine days this year to shoot a documentary,” he said. “I’d never been there before. It blew my mind: the city, the people, the culture, the food, the music. It changed me. Music is everywhere. I sat in my hotel room one day lamenting the fact that I’d let the music-making part of me fade away. So I’m going to start playing more music.”
Murder Ballad Ball, Vol. 4 starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club, 3402 Main St. Performers: Richard Alwyn; Partners in Glory; Cody Wyoming; Victor and Penny; the Vi Tran Band; Penny Sheets; screening of “Two Sisters” (at 10 p.m.); the Rural Grit All-Stars; Cadillac Flambe; the Silver Maggies; Adam Lee; the Blue Boot Healers. Admission is $10. The show is a benefit for the Midwest Music Foundation.
| Timothy Finn, The Star