I Am Secretly an Important Man | Chicago Reader

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90 minutes

Stricken by polio as a child, Jesse Bernstein spent time on Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus in the 60s and then moved with his family to Seattle, where he battled mental illness and found success in the late 80s as a poet and performance artist associated with Sub Pop Records and the heroes of grunge. For this engrossing documentary, New York filmmaker Peter Sillen (Benjamin Smoke) draws on Bernstein's bleak, beautiful verse and vivid recollections from friends and lovers to portray a thoughtful but chaotic man whose enthusiasm for his creative work helped keep his demons at bay. "He was the guy who goes around and turns up the contrast on everything," remarks the poet's older brother, and that sense of extremity permeates the story, not only explaining Bernstein's gift but also illuminating his eventual suicide in 1991, at age 40.

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