OASIS: SUPERSONIC (MINT PICTURES, 2016) is easily one of the better documentaries ive watched in recent years, not least because strucurally it is an anomaly having two competing narrators in the GALLAGHER BROTHERS walking us through their story on separate tracks. recorded separately with no interaction, which seems as good a description as any for the dynamic within the group. this film shows how this highly dysfunctional pair of siblings rose to prominence with the BRITPOP movement and cemented their legacy as iconic BRITISH cultural exports on par with THE BEATLES and THE SEX PISTOLS from previous generations. its an amazing story.
you don't have to look very far in this film to see examples of singer LIAM GALLAGHER's loutish womanizing behavior that have made his king hooligan public persona the stuff of legend. but honestly that stuff bored me. what you really get at the heart of their relationship, and by definition the crux of this film, is this notion of an unbalanced division of labor. guitarist NOEL GALLAGHER comes off as the brooding, sensitive son of an abusive MANCUNIAN father who made himself into a songsmith whose innate sense of melody and human observation led him to write transcendent songs that put him in the pantheon of great BRITISH songwriters along with the aforementioned LENNON/MCCARTNEY as well as RAY DAVIES, MORRISSEY/JOHNNY MARR, ELVIS COSTELLO, ELTON JOHN/BERNIE TAUPIN, VAN MORRISON, IAN CURTIS and even DAMON ALBARN. but that only got him so far without the magnetism, charisma and straight-up sex appeal of LIAM in the vein of iconic BRITHS frontmen like JOHNNY ROTTEN, FREDDIE MERCURY, PAUL WELLER, NICK LOWE, JOE STRUMMER and of course (again) JOHN LENNON. with NOEL you got the substance of an older brother that took the blunt of the blows from their father and with LIAM the upstart baby of the family, shielded from such abuse, who wanted all the attention good or bad. super interesting family dynamic and expressions of warped masculinity that was probably also influenced by poverty, unemployment and the like in 1980s MANCHESTER.
perhaps my favorite moment in the film is when NOEL is hard at work writing songs for their follow-up record in the studio while everyone else in the band has pissed off to the local pub, leaving him with all the creative control, but also the pressure. at some point he asks LIAM for ideas and his brother is totally dismissive, saying that he didn't have time for that right now. you really get the sense in this film, admittedly by both narrators, that this was NOEL's ship (despite the fact that he didn't start the band) and that LIAM was just in it for the fame, glory and the birds.
it makes sense now that NOEL's solo career has blossomed into, for all intents and purposes, the second phase of OASIS' career given that the quality of the material has never diminished. this can't be said for LIAM's solo work or lackluster BEADY EYE efforts, the later of which saw the remaining OASIS members dismally attempt to recreate the magic sans NOEL to no effect. its super glaring and obvious now, but by watching this documentary you begin to understand that this trajectory was embedded in the very framework of OASIS and how it functioned and that LIAM seriously better set his ego aside and make nice with his brother.
seriously, for all our benefit. make up and go conquer the world again. nobody died. you all survived. nobody took your throne so got out and kick ass again.
please. i really want to hear "ROCK N ROLL STAR" in a stadium. just do it.
when people consider the PUNK ROCK movement that swelled up on both sides of the ATLANTIC in the late 1970s, the bands that usually come to mind are iconic acts like THE RAMONES, SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and THE DAMNED. whats interesting about those bands is that in many ways they are rather conservative in their approach, basically recycling CHUCK BERRY riffs and taking back ROCK AND ROLL in essence back to its core 1950s origins with ROCKABILLY legacy acts like ELVIS PRESLEY, EDDIE COCHRAN, GENE VINCENT, CARL PERKINS and the like. i find it one of the great ironies that a cultural movement so celebrated for being transgressive was actually quite traditionalist in a sonic sense, at worst even nostalgic.
such was not the case with two bands of that period, X-RAY SPEX and especially THE SLITS. the documentary HERE TO BE HEARD: THE STORY OF THE SLITS (HEAD GEAR FILMS, 2017) interview surviving members (and former members) TESSA POLLITT, VIV ALBERTINE, PALMOLIVE and NENA CHERRY about their experience during that period. the recently deceased ARI UP (R.I.P.) appears in archival interview and performance footage.
my big takeaway from that film was how truly revolutionary THE SLITS were in context, both musically and socially. musically they blazed the way forward towards POST-PUNK by incorporating WEST INDIAN and AFRICAN rhythms into an aggressive yet sophisticated sound which sonically reinforced confrontational lyrics dealing with the VICTORIAN ideals of womanhood. and if you thought these famous male PUNK bands were supportive of their female brethren you'd be surprised. apparently while on tour with THE CLASH on their WHITE RIOT TOUR in 1977 across BRITAIN, the bus driver needed to be bribed in order to allow THE SLITS on the bus. such was the stigma against female musicians in this effective boys' club. this resulted in THE SLITS developing a sense that other bands and their manager's became extensions of the establishment.
think about that. THE SLITS were outcasts within a subculture defined by their outcast status. its quite remarkable and really puts those other bands in proper focus, since the revolution advocated at least initially had no place for women outside of traditional roles. it is almost absurd how truly conventional those bands were and how authentically subversive THE SLITS were during their prime.
and it doesn't stop there either. founding member and powerhouse drummer PALMOLIVE (later of THE RAINCOATS) was dismissed because the PUNK ROCK ethos of the band couldn't square itself with her CATHOLICISM. so even within the internal realm of a band that was the outcast within a scene of outcasts, a CHRISTIAN found herself to be the most isolated of all. if anything, her example is to follow your convictions despite societal or peer group pressure, which is by definition the essence of PUNK ROCK. funny how life works sometimes.
the larger aim of this documentary is to present THE SLITS and ARI UP (in fact, this film fulfills part of her final will) to a new generation of music fans that may be unaware of them and their influence not only on the experimental POST-PUNK scene but also perhaps on the RIOT GRRRL scene that flourished 20 years after. THE SLITS due to the misogyny of rock critics from major BRITISH and AMERICAN publications alike have been dismissed from the greater narrative of PUNK ROCK as nothing being a footnote or curiosity. this documentary helps shed light on their proper place as an equal (and perhaps maybe a little more equal than other bands) creative force in a storied, influential scene.
compiled and edited in the wake of the death of ascendent HIP HOP artist LIL PEEP, the documentary LIL PEEP: EVERYBODY'S EVERYTHING (FIRST ACCESS, 2019) appears to be the result of a copious amount of footage (tour, behind the scenes, music videos, family home recordings) and interviews (family, friends, peers, management). what emerges is a portrait of a charismatic creative that was much beloved by all who knew him well, despite his efforts to mark himself as a societal outcast with his outrageous appearance.
having passed on from a fentanyl overdose at 21, his young life found him creating highly affective music that blurred the lines between SOUTHERN HIP HOP-influenced TRAP PRODUCTION and POP PUNK melodies, which sounds contrived but in his hands was entirely unique. this was probably due to his tuneful yet emotionally resonating vocals which belied an alternate universe of endured pain and sullen isolation. its hard not to watch this and see a troubled LONG ISLAND high school loner that was rejected by his father and wanted nothing but to connect with others. through the power of the internet he found his footing and community of artists and ultimately exploded on the underground HIP HOP scene, creating an ever-growing posse of hangers-on and enablers that no doubt, contributed to his demise. this point is hammered home with the revelation that he was dead in the front lounge of the bus for 4 hours before anyone noticed. the life of the party, yet seemingly everyone saw his gentle nature as a welcome gesture to be exploited.
he seemingly could not say no. could not distance himself from those that didnt have his best interests at heart. he was so young. you get the feeling that he was on the verge of something. his final tour was a gesture to his crew before he planned to leave them. no conspiracy is hinted at here. he passed away from the same drug that took PRINCE, TOM PETTY and MAC MILLER. the OPIOID CRISIS is real.
but this documentary does not come off as a cautionary tale, it is more of a love letter from those whom he left behind. a celebration of his life and music.
the documentary AMERICAN VALHALLA (EAGLE ROCK, 2017) takes its name from a song off of IGGY POP's late-career album POST POP DEPRESSION (LOMA VISTA, 2016), which was a collaboration between the iconic STOOGES frontman and musician JOSH HOMME of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE/KYUSS fame. this documentary follows their collaboration throughout the songwriting and recording process with interviews of both conducted by ANTHONY BOURDAIN (RIP).
i guess it should be stated that while IGGY and HOMME come from celebrated bands, both are actually quite unconventional musicians. lots of bands pay lip service to expanding their sound on subsequent releases, but if you track the career trajectory of both you will see that is actually the case. when IGGY reached out to HOMME, both took it as an opportunity to experiment and see what new creations could be manifested from their respective provided elements. it was interesting that in navigating this new relationship they based much on instinct and cooked the songs quickly in short order to not overthink it. just move forward.
i think this film at its core is about the nature of collaboration, especially when you have a history or legacy. it is about dismantling those expectations, both external and, more importantly, internal.
i remember when i was teaching i never slept particularly well because i was constantly questioning my plans. its not that they were inferior, i knew they were sound, but the opportunity cost of it all drove me nuts. there were so many options and how could i choose the right course of action that would best serve my students. i think that drive in part is what broke my heart about the profession, the fact that so many of my peers phoned it in. taught the same thing in the same order as years before, altering nothing. i saw the classroom as a dynamic venue for exploring ideas and challenging them against new technologies and world events. opening up the curriculum to show how these classroom concepts affect our understanding of both the world and ourselves. the fact that i did this in foreign countries, never on my home court made it that much more invigorating and scary at the same time. more colors to play with. i was willing to fail and being unable to settle down completely at night was the price i was willing to pay. risk nothing you get nothing.
what i am trying to say is that im well aware of this fear HOMME had in the film. how do i collaborate with an icon? make it worth his time and my time? and most frightening of all: the opportunity cost of all the other possible music i could write, that i could present to him. how do you conquer that fear?
you just do it by doing it. being truly in the moment. their collaboration was all instinct, mutually respecting and sharing that creative moment. in the moment. right now.
i loved that tightrope dance. i miss it.
note: but i wouldnt return to teaching. dealing with administrations that didn't have the students interests at front of mind cut my heart out. repeatedly. a bad one-sided collaboration rooted in politics.
great film. intriguing documentary on the nature of collaboration and cost required to make it a fruitful and meaningful endeavor.
ECHO IN THE CANYON (MIRROR FILMS, 2019) is a documentary about the mid 1960s LAUREL CANYON scene located just outside the SUNSET STRIP in the hills above LOS ANGELES that served as a sanctuary to FOLK-inspired ROCK AND ROLL musicians. musician JAKOB DYLAN of THE WALLFLOWERS conducts the interviews with luminaries such as BRIAN WILSON, ROGER MCQUINN, DAVID CROSBY, RINGO STARR, ERIC CLAPTON, GRAHAM NASH, STEPHEN STILLS, TOM PETTY, JOHN SEBASTIAN, MICHELLE PHILLIPS, LOU ADLER, JACKSON BROWNE and most compellingly, reinterprets the songs himself of BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, THE BEACH BOYS, THE BYRDS and THE ASSOCIATION with a roster of modern musicians including FIONA APPLE, CAT POWER, BECK, JADE CASTRINOS and NORAH JONES. as i will discuss shortly, this continuing of the cycle of interpretation and experimentation is a genius stroke as that passing of ideas is at the core of how the scene developed and was nurtured by artists back in the day. very cool stuff indeed.
what i found most interesting about this period of music history was the atmosphere of experimentation that defined it with songwriters cross-pollination and contextualizing the sounds of peers in new concoctions, moving everyone forward together.
prime example: THE BEATLES inspired THE BYRDS to take FOLK chord progressions and play them in a ROCK AND ROLL setting, which found them reinterpreting PETE SEEGER in a cover of his "THE BELLES OF RHYMNEY" which, in turn, influenced GEORGE HARRISON to interpolate that chord progression and 12-string RICKENBACKER sound in "IF I NEEDED SOMEBODY." just a cycle of ideas being ping-ponged back in forth across the pond by like-minded artists.
and for me that is the crux of any healthy scene, irrespective of outside distractions like business, fashion and aesthetics. at its core this scene nurtured artists to spread their wings and take chances. as BECK points out in the film, this may be why most of these bands have multiple singers and songwriters. they are in fact supergroups in a sense channeling the best of what they have to contribute. just take the songwriters in two of the most prominent groups: BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD (NEIL YOUNG, STEPHEN STILLS), THE BYRDS (ROGER MCQUINN, DAVID CROSBY). its pretty amazing they stuck together as long as they did.
its a complete 180 now in terms of the media landscape where artists are afraid of being explicit about their influences for fear of being sued in the aftermath of the 2013 PHARRELL/ROBIN THICKE case concerning an interpolation of a MARVIN GAYE song. or maybe im wrong in that, maybe with the internet there is a bevy of experimentation going on beneath the surface, producers trading files with musicians and rappers, songs being remixed, ideas being shared in the same way those house parties in LAURAL CANYON helped spark such a rich tapestry of music from 1965-1967 at the outset of that scene (including others not interviewed like FRANK ZAPPA, JONI MITCHELL and JIM MORRISON) which obviously blossomed in the 1970s with acts such as CAROLE KING, JACKSON BROWNE and FLEETWOOD MAC among othes. something to consider. great film.
what was originally intended as behind-the-scenes footage to be utilized as extra content for their upcoming release transitioned into a seminal documentary about the dissolution of a band in real-time, something that has not been documented before or since to my knowledge.
controversial at the time of its release among METAL fans, the documentary SOME KIND OF MONSTER (THIRD EYE, 2004) by directors JOE BERLINGER and BRUCE SINOFSKY (BROTHER's KEEPER, PARADISE LOST trilogy) has proven in retrospect to be arguably their highest achievement (other than those perfect string of legendary CLIFF BURTON albums in the 1980s). i say this because there is a lot of posturing and machismo bullshit in METAL. it is by far the aspect of the genre i dislike the most and for years METALLICA were the pied pipers of this toxic brand of masculinity. that was until their second bassist JASON NEWSTED departed in order to claim the freedom of pursuing other projects. this was the first domino in a series of internal debate and reconsiderations that led to group therapy and lead singer/rhythm guitarist JAMES HETFIELD's admittance into rehab for alcoholism.
again, given their history with these issues it was a brave move. original lead guitarist DAVE MUSTAINE of MEGADETH fame was booted out for his behavior when intoxicated. he wasn't afforded a second opportunity. to interview him and put all the cards on the table in such a public manner really altered the culture in my opinion. none more so than the issue of therapy.
METALLICA was mocked extensively for going in to group therapy as such was perceived (moronically) as being weak, passive and not metal. if anything this was a power move that took incredible courage. i look back now at a seminal band like PANTERA who had internal struggles that were never dealt with out of a sense of toxic masculinity and they broke up out of spite with one another. they battled each other in the press and ultimately cowered to their corners with their respective enablers and hangers-on, never addressing anything in person, man-to-man. in my mind stepping up and speaking your truth and probably more importantly, the act of listening would have been more METAL. but what do i know?
i feel as our culture becomes ever more coarse and driven by wedge issues that seek to divide us, here is an example of a group of men looking each other in the eye dealing with their internal issues directly with begrudging respect. taking control of their behavior. being adults. thats what this film represents to me.
too bad the album ST. ANGER sucked.
i remember back in 2011 i was dominating my fantasy football league because of this surprise tight end on the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS was dominating the NFL. that tight end was AARON HERNANDEZ. my thought process was basically that quarterback TOM BRADY was so efficient that all of his possible receivers would have inflated stats and as it turned out i was correct. the other tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI was a high pick in every draft but HERNANDEZ was a sleeper. the next year i chose him again when oddly partway through the season he stopped because he was being investigated in a homicide. jokingly i remember complaining that of course this happens to my team, but quickly i realized that most in my position in all likelihood did not share my healthy distance from my own competitive self-interests.
i think one of the key components that make KILLER INSIDE: THE MIND OF AARON HERNANDEZ (NETFLIX, 2020) such a deeply distubing documentary is the culpability of all of us in this game that literally grinds up men and chews them out as broken shadows of their former selves. to me that was the bottom line as told through the story of a deeply troubled player with questionable morals that succeeded and was given no guardrails or boundaries due to his athletic prowess and our collective cult-like adoration to modern athletes.
this devotion is hollow in that none of us truly care about these players once they leave the field of play. think about that for a minute. we use these men.
HERNANDEZ throughout the 3-hour, 3-part documentary is shown to be a freak athlete who suffered through family chaos, repressed sexuality and a diminished control over his emotions that was almost certainly a result of CTE due to concussions going back to high school. this is not to say that the film offers him excuses for his actions, it doesnt. its conceit is that he had agency and made terrible choices based on a myriad of underlying issues that complicated his sense of identity and position in society. the murders he was accused of conducting were heinous and senseless and beyond tragic, as those he lashed out against were normal working-class people unassociated with any underworld connections.
you just get the feeling that this guy needed help at every stage in his development and all anyone saw in him was dollar signs. as consumers we are all implicated in the bloodsport that is AMERICAN football and the NCAA and the NFL are both hollow organizations that cater to this impulse for violence. at some point we have to come to terms with the sport and the wake of human wreckage it leaves behind. notwithstanding is the equally brutal, almost spartan, connotations it provides in celebrating a particular strain of toxic masculinity to the youth that isn't representative, fair or healthy.
real bravery is living your truth and taking responsibility for your actions. not violence. the NFL is a scourge on our society. they know they profit from and celebrate human carnage. can't help but muse over the spiraling lasting societal effects of a generation of athletes dealing with undiagnosable traumatic brain injuries. the effects on their wives, husbands, children, siblings, parents and loved ones.
powerful film well worth investigating. highly recommended.
with our country again on the brink of another needless war brought on by hubris and greed, i went back and rewatched ERROL MORRIS' masterful documentary THE FOG OF WAR (SONY PICTURES CLASSICS, 2003) in which he interviewed former secretary of defense (under both JFK and LBJ) and effective VIETNAM WAR architect, ROBERT S. MCNAMARA. MORRIS employs his combative style whereby he forgoes KEN BURNS-style narration and just directly confronts his subject from an off-camera vantage point. in effect he acts has surrogate of the audience, which is an engaging tactic. in this film it functions as a way of controlling the narrative and challenges the opinions of MCNAMARA, who had his own agenda.
nearing the end of his life, MCNAMARA used this interview as vehicle to both reflect on his controversial career in government and impart hard-fought wisdom on future decision-makers in WASHINGTON, specifically those tasked with matters of war and peace. so in a sense this film is heavy.
he goes about drawing out 11 LESSONS from his participation in VIETNAM. they include:
that was a lot of material to just throw out there i am aware, but what interests me now about our current situation are the first two lessons, which basically can summarized as put yourself in the shoes of your enemy and attempt to understand the forces that drive their decisions, both geopolitically and domestically. this documentary came out in the aftermath of the disastrous 2003 decision to go to war with IRAQ, which itself was made without a clear understanding (and i would characterize it more directly as "blatant disregard") of the regional, cultural and historical context of which we were attempting to effect. funny enough, the SECRETARY OF DEFENCE involved with that decision, DONLAD RUMSFELD is the subject of another MORRIS documentary entitled THE KNOWN UNKNOWN (MOXIE FILMS, 2013). unlike MCNAMARA, RUMSFELD is the living embodiment of obfuscation and weaseling from responsibility. he is a lesser man.
what scares me now is that we have descended even further down the rabbit hole from RUMSFELD, who manipulated information but valued it. today we are entering a reality where the only reality that matters is that of DONALD TRUMP and his misguided sycophants and enablers. i am scared and for good reason. MCNAMARA encourages us to see past our confirmation biases and have as wide a net of perspectives involved when considering violent action on a state level. those perspectives include that of our enemy.
at this current juncture in history, the only line that demarcates enemy from ally is who coddles the delusions of our commander in chief. shame on MIKE PENCE, MIKE POMPEO, STEPHEN MILLER, JARED KUSHNER, STEPHEN BANNON, IVANKA TRUMP, RUPERT MURDOCH, RUSH LIMBAUGH, SEAN HANNITY, LAURA INGRAHAM, MARK LEVIN, TUCKER CARLSON, MITCH MCCONNELL, KEVIN MCCARTHY and the entire REPUBLICAN contingent in both houses of CONGRESS.
may history judge you harshly for enabling this clown to run roughshod over our constitution and sully our flag in the eyes of the world. shame on you.
early 20th century french conceptual artist MARCEL DUCHAMP once stated that america's greatest work of art was its plumbing. to him the object was redefined and elevated to that of art purely by the transformational gaze of the artist.
i couldn't help but think of that idea when recently watching a documentary on the legendary BONES BRIGADE 1980s skateboard team for epoch establishing skateboard company POWELL PERALTA, which notably included STEVE CABALLERO, TONY HAWK, LANCE MOUNTAIN, RODNEY MULLEN, TOMMY GUERRERO, and MIKE MCGILL and later BUCKY LASEK, MIKE VALLELY and DANNY WAY among others. BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (NONFICTION UNLIMITED 2012) was directed by STACY PERALTA of POWELL PERALTA and Z-BOYS fame.
for me what made this documentary interesting is that skateboarding for this generation provided a way of reinterpreting the landscape in just as radical a manner as the ROMANTICS or TRANSCENDENTALISTS of the past. oppressive suburban monotony and urban jungles were transformed into a never ending canvass upon which to explore. as much as these athletes provided a new touchstone that shifted culture in terms of sports, fashion, music and normative definitions of masculinity, it is this freedom that they exemplified that i still find the most compelling.
for me personally i only experienced that level of transformation with my surroundings when i got a honda click scooter in MYANMAR. man i loved that bike. life over there was pretty isolating and monotonous where essentially i lived on the same compound of the school, which felt like a prison. the military government felt rather oppressive and it was a situation where you felt like you were being constantly monitored. i only lasted a year at that school and was happy to leave. but having that bike made my year. it gave me the freedom to really explore the countryside and meet locals, talk with artists and monks from other towns and villages. even now i can still smell the air of the rice fields and see water buffalo lounging in the distance.
without that bike i literally would've been stuck in that compound with a bunch of complaining ex-patriots (mostly americans) whining about some inconsequential bullshit. instead i was out taking in the food, sights and culture of the northern region surrounding MANDALAY. there is something visceral about feeling the wind in your face and being physically traveling in space, not in a traveling air-conditioned room (a la cars, trucks, etc) that makes you really take in the surrounding landscape and notice how it shifts and alters over time. maybe this has little to do with skateboarding, but i really miss that feeling. know i understand the risk/reward of motorcycles.