I Am Secretly an Important Man

You worry about a guy who worshipped William S. Burroughs, and Steven Jesse Bernstein clearly made his friends worry long before he met his idol and preceded him onstage (at the Moore in 1988). He had mental troubles and substance-abuse issues for most of his life. Following his 1991 suicide, the local poet was honored by a Sub Pop album and EMP exhibit, but this new documentary from New York director Peter Sillen is the tenderest tribute yet. Important Man sets Bernstein's nasal verse to elegant streetscape montages of the city then and now. Friends and a few family members testify to Bernstein's happy, conventional L.A. childhood and drug-impacted Seattle years. "Jesse was a true outsider," says photographer Charles Peterson, who with other grunge scenesters—Kurt Cobain included—latched onto Bernstein's raw words. "I'm not interested in making it in the literary world," he claims; yet outside the punk-rock clubs, Bernstein was willing to do a reading in a storefront window at Nordstrom, to be interviewed—in hilariously awkward fashion—by Susan Hutchison on TV. Why he killed himself is left unexplained. Straight biography isn't the point here, and Bernstein's contradictions, like Burroughs', remain unresolved. (NR) BRIAN MILLER

Fri., May 20, 8 p.m., 2011

 
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