In Let It Die Here, Linda Perry Dances With Her Demons

We spoke with filmmaker Don Hardy about what he hopes audiences will glean from Linda Perry’s life and legacy.

Music Features Linda Perry
In Let It Die Here, Linda Perry Dances With Her Demons

When Don Hardy began filming 4 Non Blondes frontwoman, producer and longtime collaborator and advocate of singer-songwriters Linda Perry in 2021, he did so with few expectations, even less stipulations and a solitary approach: “Human beings first, filmmakers second.” The result? Let It Die Here, an unflinching glimpse at a prolific artist, a self-professed workaholic and, ultimately, a person on the precipice of an existential breakthrough. As cameras went up, his subject found herself at the center of a convergence of crises—the passing of her mother, a breast cancer diagnosis and one long dance with a few childhood demons. Hardy’s ethos, it seems, was the right one at the right time.

Exactly one week after Let It Die Here made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival to overwhelmingly positive reviews—Rolling Stone, for instance, deemed it “the rawest, most revealing music documentary in years”—Hardy and I spoke on the phone. At the time, he and Perry were in Arkansas for the film’s screening at the Bentonville Film Festival, chaired by Geena Davis. Neither of them had ever been before, thus they spent much of that morning getting acquainted with the city—the birthplace of Walmart.

At the outset, it was never Hardy’s intent to capture what he did. In short, one woman’s series of steps both backward and forward. In following—Perry’s moves, from sessions with Kate Hudson to writing her own album to recovering from loss–Hardy, in his words, simply let life lead. That may be true, but it’s largely because of his care that Let It Die Here actually transcends that of any other revealing music documentary—even if it is exceptional for the genre—and becomes a needful study of the human spirit that will no doubt prompt audiences to sigh, sniffle, then smile at the ways this particular one has survived.

Hardy spoke with Paste about what was off-limits (very little), that gut-punch of a Supertramp scene and what he hopes audiences will glean from Perry’s life and legacy.

Paste Magazine: Linda is, for the most part, a pretty private person. Was there anything in her life that was off-limits when filming began? Did those parameters change throughout the process?

Don Hardy: The short answer is no. When we started, I’d known Linda because she had scored my previous film [Citizen Penn] which was about Sean Penn’s work in Haiti and she and her wife at the time, Sarah, were supporters of Sean’s organization. That’s how we started down this path of having a relationship and somewhere in there I said, “Hey, would you ever consider doing this?” She didn’t want to, but she agreed to just let me do some filming. There really weren’t any ground rules set. As you get to know Linda more, she is private, but when she trusts you… She wasn’t thinking too much that, down the road, this is going to be on a 60-foot movie screen. It was just kind of her talking to her friend. That’s how we kept approaching filmmaking. As things went on, we did throw out the idea, like, “Hey, if you feel like sharing anything, just film it with your iPhone.” And she was able to capture a couple of the most powerful moments in the film and had the courage to share them with me.

Speaking of self-taping, that scene where we see Linda dancing alone in her closet to Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” was maybe the most affecting image I personally saw at the festival this year. If she’s seen any cut of the film, what was it like to watch that back with her?

When I finally showed her the rough cut, we were pretty far along. I was feeling really good about the film. And we went to my friend, who has a post-production facility in the L.A. area, and I said, “Can we just come in and watch it?” It’s terrifying, because you don’t want [the subject of a film] to be like, “What are you doing?” but it’s better to get it out of the way there than at your world premiere, or something. So, we sat down and watched it and Linda was incredibly supportive. She had a few thoughts, and when the scene that you’re describing came up, I heard her yell from the front row: “Oh my god!” I think, in that version of the film, it was actually longer as well and it’s already a pretty long scene.

We watched it more recently with a small group of people before making the trip to Tribeca and she made me sit right next to her this time—which is not something I normally do. And after, she leaned over and whispered to me, “I really want to give that girl a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay.”

There’s substantive swaths of the film in which animation aids in the storytelling. I read that decision was due—in part—to a lack of photos and footage from certain periods of Linda’s life. Why animation to supplement that?

Spending time with Linda, filming all this stuff—a lot of it was just her and I having a conversation and these stories would emerge. For example, the first animation we have in the film is her breaking down how her song, “What’s Up,” really came into being. I just remember going to my editor Camille and I said “How do we illustrate this?” We have to include it, because not only is it a very famous song that many people know, but it really tells how Linda became a producer and learned to stand up for herself in the music business. It just felt so essential. We flirted with some different ideas, and I believe I reached out to one of my executive producers, Daniel Seliger, and he was like, “Well, what about animation?” He had seen a couple of music videos that this company called Studio Linguini had done. We figured we didn’t want to overdo it, but we had these four or five passages that seemed like they were really worthy of inclusion and so we just asked how best to depict them. I just feel like they really brought those sections to life.

Music and Linda’s strident perfectionism—or, “self-abuse,” as she describes it in the film—is kind of just the Trojan horse of Let It Die Here, I think. The title really refers to putting a period on patterns, specifically pertaining to generational trauma. Or, attempting to. Were you at all surprised by that?

I never could have anticipated that we would get so much into thinking about aging and disease, and, as you said, generational trauma and breaking those cycles. I never would have thought that we would tread over all that territory in this film. But we do, and I feel like we do it in a very honest and vulnerable way that I haven’t seen in any film—whether it’s about a celebrity or documentaries about real everyday people. It affected all of us. I think to see Linda’s bravery just made us all think a little bit more about the families we have left behind, our place in it all and that, maybe, we shouldn’t be running in a million different directions and just try to focus on the people we love and doing what we love as much as we can.

You managed to capture Linda at such a poignant time in her life. In her late 50s, she’s existing in that in-between space of looking back at all she’s accomplished—namely, writing innumerable hits but for so many artists, forgiving her mother, becoming a mother herself—but also, forward at what she’s yet to—writing something that’s singularly hers and being the parent to her child that she didn’t have in her formative years. What do you hope audiences take away from this film about her life and legacy?

Often people get labeled as one thing, like, “Oh, Linda’s got a bad attitude” or “She’s totally difficult to work with.” And yeah, maybe some of that’s true. I mean, we all have off days. But I think what hopefully shines through in the film is that she is an incredibly talented person trying to make her way through it all and do what we all hope to do: provide a good life for our families, have a job we’re passionate about and find some balance between the two.

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