More than a Beastie, Yauch was humanitarian, film geek

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" were produced and distributed by Oscilloscope.
May 13, 2012

The impact one Adam Yauch has had upon this writer’s life cannot be easily compressed into the space allotted for this column. As founder and one-third of the influential, trailblazing Beastie Boys, Yauch (also known as MCA) had spit lyrics that were the soundtrack to a lifetime of memories. Pages can be filled with certain songs and/or videos that were played on an endless loop through bedroom, car and dorm room speakers or merely the sound system within my head. No mere MC, Yauch was also a talented musician (check out the mean bass plucking throughout “Check Your Head” or “The Mix-Up”) and a tireless humanitarian (creating the Milarepa Fund, a nonprofit devoted to Tibetan independence).

But the side of which many have been unaware is just what a film geek the man was. His got the directing bug in the late 1980s (credited as Nathaniel Hornblower, he helmed a number of the Beasties' best music videos), moving on to feature-length documentaries (“Awesome; I F*#kin’ Shot That!”). He culminated his love in Oscilloscope Laboratories, housed in Tribeca, New York, with former ThinkFilm executive David Fenkel. Founded as a production and distribution company in 2008, the studio served as sort of a halfway house for struggling films. He was quoted in a New York Magazine article titled “He Shoots...” (2008) as saying: “In the film industry, you see a lot of people who are trying to pick up films they think are marketable and just figure out how to make them work. A lot of times you hear people say, ‘That’s a great film, I loved it, but it’s not marketable.’ That’s the film Oscilloscope is picking up. So what if it’s not marketable? If you feel good when you’re watching it, there’s got to be a way.”

In fewer than five years, the company has managed to help spread the word on almost 50 pictures, ranging form Irish coming-of-age dramas (“Kisses”), early Italian exploitation (“The Law”), and Chilean comedies (“The Maid”) to Swedish documentaries on bananas (“Bananas! On Trial for Malice”), French romantic comedies (“Happy Few”) and American Sundance favorites (“Bellflower”).

Below are a list of some of the best the quirky Oscilloscope has to offer, available on disc and/or online, for you to ch-check it out on your own.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Amateur filmmaker Kurt Kuenne could always count on his best buddy from childhood, Andrew Bagby, to star in one of his shoestring productions. When Bagby is murdered, Kuenne makes it his mission to document his friend's life with hopes of one day showing Bagby's infant son Bagby the father he'll never know. There are detours that surprise the filmmaker and shock the audience in one of the most heartbreaking, riveting true-crime films you're likely to see. (Netflix instant, iTunes, DVD)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Criminally overlooked at last year's awards season, "Kevin" follows a mother (played by Tilda Swinton in one of the best performances of the year) struggling to cope with the aftermath of a school shooting at the hands of her son. Perhaps too dark for some, the film is not without moments of black humor. But overall, "Kevin" is haunting for just how normal the family unit is and how sometimes there are no moments to pinpoint where things went off the rails. (Netflix, iTunes, DVD)

Dark Days (2000)
British filmmaker Marc Singer's documentary about a group of homeless New York City residents who live in the tunnels of an abandoned subway system. His crew was actually the very denizens who inhabited the tunnel, who also managed to capture a sweep of the area by the city, looking to clear them out. A truly fascinating behind-the-curtain peek at Yauch's home turf in the Big Apple. (Netflix Instant, iTunes, DVD)

Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Banksy Film (2010)
Is this, as the film's title suggests, a big ruse on the audience, a critical look at the world of art, or an earnest attempt to capture on film the elusive Andy Warhol of underground graffiti art, Banksy? The answer is left to interpretation, but is far less interesting than the road the film takes to get there. For those looking for "Inception"-like twists in their documentaries, this is your flick. (Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime streaming, iTunes, DVD)

The Other F Word (2011)

That would be "fatherhood." Andrea Blaugrund Nevins interviews punk rockers who, once the voice of anti-authoritarianism, are now shifting into middle age and settling into family life. More than 30 musicians and icons were called upon to share their views on what it means when the only machine they now rage against is the baby monitor. (Netflix, iTunes)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
In what could be considered the anti-"Elf," this Finnish fantasy film discovers the truth behind Santa Claus. It turns out, you don't really want to shoot for getting on his "nice list" as much as you really want to make sure you stay off his "naughty" one. Delightfully dark fun, "Exploits" is a refreshing break from the overly saccharine cinema that surrounds the holiday season.

There are plenty of other films within the studio's library that make for worthwhile viewing, and you can view the entire list and availability at

The concluding track on the Beastie's 1992 masterpiece "Check Your Head" is titled "Namaste," after the traditional Eastern greeting. In Sanskrit, the word is namah + te, and actually means "I bow to you."

Namaste, Adam Yauch. Namaste.

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