After decades in production, Satan & Adam, a documentary about a pair of Harlem street musicians who achieved brief fame before falling apart, will finally premiere in theaters on April 12. Matt Wallin, communication arts professor, shot key sequences for the film over the course of nearly 20 years. He’s worked on blockbuster films such as Hellboy, Constantine and Watchmen, and is co-host of the VFX Show podcast.
Wallin met Satan & Adam director V. Scott Balcerek while they were working at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic in the early ’90s, and the two became fast friends.
“We’re the same age,” says Wallin. “So me and him and some other guys [at ILM] would all hang out and go get lunch.”
Balcerek soon asked Wallin to help him work on a new film project, citing the 1988 U2 documentary Rattle & Hum as inspiration. In the U2 doc and its accompanying album, the blues duo Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow—also known as Mr. Satan and Adam—perform their song “Freedom for My People.” Magee and Gussow were well-known performers on the streets of Harlem, but their inclusion on the multiplatinum-selling soundtrack boosted their popularity. Balcerek wanted to learn more about them, and Wallin joined him in tracking down the musicians in New York City.
Armed with a 16mm camera, Wallin had the opportunity to shoot footage of Mr. Satan on a street corner performing, interacting with passerby and showing off artwork.
But Balcerek left ILM soon after to work on other projects, and Satan and Adam fell by the wayside. Wallin assumed his footage would go unused until decades later.
“We’ve always stayed in touch over the years,” says Wallin. “We followed each other’s trajectories and called each other for advice. At one point, Scott called and asked if I could go down to Tampa, Florida, to see Mr. Satan. Years and years later, he was still working on this film. He finally decided he wanted to finish it.”
This second opportunity allowed Balcerek and Wallen a chance to film the musical duo at a different stage in their careers. Mr. Satan had disappeared from Harlem during the film’s protracted production, making his reunion with Adam a dramatic third act in the documentary.
“I wouldn’t have imagined Scott would have thought it would take 20 years to make the film,” says Wallin, “but it’s a better film for it. It becomes a much more compelling portrait of this artist, this musician, in a way that it would not have otherwise. And for me, even though I’ve shot footage for Björk and Madonna, it was cool to have the opportunity to shoot stuff with a friend. I never thought it would see the light of day, but it’s finished, it’s coming out and I have a credit in the movie.”
Learn more about Satan and Adam, and where you can catch a showing.