I’m referring to Eamonn Bowles, guitarist and lead vocalist for New York punk band the Martinets, DIY advocate and president of a little company you might know as the rapidly burgeoning Magnolia Pictures. Independent cinema and punk rock go hand in hand, and when you throw a knack for business in with this balls-out attitude, you get a leader everyone can respect.
Steeped in the New York punk scene from a young age, Bowles thrived off legends like the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers. Joining the Fabians in 1979 and playing clubs like the historically known, late CBGB’s, Bowles’ newest endeavor, the Martinets, represents decades in the making. They’re just like you and your friend’s band – only with families, actual jobs and a few more years under their belt.
“The people I play with are kinda great. It’s like playing with the Who or something,” Bowles says about his ridiculously talented band mates.
It doesn’t really matter if practice makes perfect, because the Martinets’ years of rough, natural talent and laid-back attitudes allow them to agree on one very important thing: practice is not a priority. Together with his band mates for over nine years now and recently reaching a personal culmination by opening for the New York Dolls, Bowles maintains a level head, calling his experience with the Martinets “the best effort-reward ratio I’ve ever had.”<[> If growing up a self-taught guitarist and playing shows where the Ramones’ sweat stains might still lie doesn’t impress you, don’t worry, it doesn’t impress Bowles either.
“In my usual arrogance, I always thought the Fabians were the best band we played with,” Bowles responds, pointing to his own youthful band as most impressive even amongst the greats.
Maintaining a certain level of ego, which is really just useful confidence, the Martinets effortlessly evoke a time when safety pins were not prefabricated into clothes and bondage belts came from Home Depot not Hot Topic.
The Martinets MySpace page describes their music as, “Sounds like: shit. Uh, I mean the shit.” Both descriptions appropriate to the gritty three-chord heavy guitar.
This trio is the original rock trifecta. With a live show made complete with Bowles in a ruffled front tuxedo shirt, the Martinets evoke the fantastic bridge between ’70s British rock like the Kinks, and its slow metamorphosis into the middle finger rebellion and chaos of the Sex Pistols. With songs like “Shake It Like a Man” and “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa,” the Martinets are hilarious, ridiculous and actually talented.
With frequent mentions of foreign filmmakers like Truffaut and Buñuel, Bowles is a punk rocker gone film mogul who has a soft spot for foreign film. Be still my heart.
Bowles is a man after every film lover’s heart, in fact. Appropriately jaded to a point of action, Bowles truly believes in quality films and unlike many film proprietors, he believes in you.
I thought being president of a distribution company was a no creativity-required job. No ingenuity, no passion, you’re a mere marketing salesman for yet another capitalist industry. I, however, have never been more wrong.
Bowles must not only know the current film climate in order to gage demand, but must understand film history, potential audiences and how to discover or create an angle on a film that will make elevated subject matter accessible to the public; without dumbing it down. For his self-described “arrogance,” Bowles certainly thinks highly of his audience, respecting our desires outside the box office and knowing we are ready for more than special effects and car explosions.
While I paid thousands of university dollars for someone to tell me what foreign films are good and why the Lumière brothers are important, Bowles’ entrepreneurial tendencies directed him from a young age. Creating his own “crash course in cinema history,” Bowles attended double bills at local theaters only to be influenced from classic Billy Wilder to authorial Michelangelo Antonioni.
Unknowingly at the time, Bowles was becoming part of the first real independent film surge. With a love of American film noir, Bowles dived into a career as … a legal proofreader?
We all have to start somewhere, and reading tedious legal documents for grammatical errors was his starting line. Fast forward through many smaller distribution companies and getting more than his feet wet in the film industry to 2001 when Bowles formed one half of the foundation of Magnolia Pictures.
As a distribution company, the responsibilities for president and founder are endless and growing, mostly administratively to Bowles’ dismay. Beginning as a one-room office, Magnolia has now developed a reputation for uncovering hidden cinema treasures in the most unlikely of places, with Academy Award status documentaries and shorts under its belt.
You might not know him from the faces of his films like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Jesus Camp, but Bowles presence lurks quietly at every major film festival, watching carefully, wheels constantly turning.
The standard film release formula used to be a mere one movie a week, now that number is up to 15 to 20 films a week. The sheer volume and density of today’s movie marketplace is greatly due to digital video production and resources like YouTube.
As a result, the film market is cluttered with productions of all budgets, sizes, topics and values – all fighting for some form of recognition. Because of the ease at which this occurs, films are clogging each other’s pores; creating a stacked wall of concentration difficult for any single product to break through.
A catch-22 for Bowles, this creates an overflowing abundance of film sources and access to more projects than he could have ever imagined. However, careful selection and premeditated marketing strategies become more crucial than ever, forcing Bowles to follow his heart, but only when his head agrees.
“It’s good to take chances, but if you lose a lot of money on one film it ruins the chances for the next one,” he summarizes.
Unlike stereotypes often associated with independent or art film, Bowles has a sturdy head on his shoulders and a sharp eye for evaluated chance that has allowed Magnolia to grow quite fast. With a firm belief in the age old saying to do your best, Bowles advocates that quality substance combined with one’s best heartfelt effort is always the best recipe for success; he knows no other way. A good product no matter what the packaging has a way of always beating even the most carefully constructed marketing campaign.
“It’s about not making sure the forks, knives and dessert spoons are in the proper order,” is Bowles’ interpretation of the DIY (do it yourself) ethic.
Bowles’ goal is simple; get quality film to the masses, even when it means fighting through the barrage of lowest common denominator blockbuster and box office standards.
In short, “I like films that aren’t full of shit,” Bowles states. Johnny Rotten couldn’t have said it better himself.
For more information, visit www.myspace.com/themartinets.