i sought out the documentary AS THE PALACES BURN (9.14 PICTURES, 2014) after reading LAMB OF GOD frontman RANDY BLYTHE's memoir DARK DAYS (link to review HERE). its an interesting film in that it was originally intended to focus on the metal community and specifically fans of the band living in difficult situations (cartel violence in MEDELLIN and rigid gender prescriptions upon women in MUMBAI specifically) and using music as an outlet. what ended up happening is roughly halfway through filming BLYTHE was charged with manslaughter in the CZECH REPUBLIC for the death of a fan that happened two years before. rather than focusing on the fans, the film instead transitions into a compelling real-life drama revolving around concepts of personal RESPONSIBILITY and EMPATHY.
the fact that BLYTHE returned to stand trial after a few months after spending 38 days in the notorious PANKRAC PRISON is a testament to his character and his sense of honor and obligation to the family of the departed. it also served as a focal point for the wider global metal community to rally behind, as noted with interviews with the likes of SLASH and COREY TAYLOR. bassist JOHN CAMPBELL mentions that the album they were touring on during this whole debacle, RESOLUTION (EPIC, 2012), was named in honor of BLYTHE's mindset regarding maintaining his sobriety (the downside of which are made famously apparent in the previous band documentary KILLADELPHIA). each band member individually corroborate how the experience made them as a unit stronger as BLYTHE had absolutely "walked the talk."
what started as a documentary about FANDOM and the healing and rejuvenating power of music instead became one about the band's sense of duty to their community. this documentary is well worth seeking out or rewatching, irregardless of whether or not you have read BLYTHE's equally impressive memoir of his insane prison experience.
i was pretty frustrated watching the documentary THE DAMNED: DON'T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD (THREE COUNT FILMS, 2015) about the legendary first-wave BRITISH PUNK ROCK band. i've never been much of a fan of THE CLASH so in my eyes the two seminal groups of that movement in ENGLAND were always THE SEX PISTOLS and THE DAMNED. whereas THE SEX PISTOLS were all about NIHILISM, SELF-DESTRUCTION and the piss and vinegar embodiment of a seething underemployed and underrepresented underclass of BRITISH youth in a time of economic and social upheaval, THE DAMNED were the ARTIER, IDIOSYNCRATIC cousins who were better musicians and songwriters, and more than a little bit more interesting. that's just my opinion obviously.
ii thought this film was a missed opportunity. the majority of this documentary gets into the minutiae of THE DAMNED's career and the ensuing lineup changes over the years, which truthfully was not that compelling and felt like one bitter ROCK N ROLL cliche after another. none more dull that the selfish allure of money. there was also this undertone of self-pity due to their career being less profitable than that of their peers. i understand how such is interesting for them, but as a viewer that is not really my concern. we all know THE OFFSPRING, GREEN DAY and BLINK-182 made more than the bands they copied (cough, cough, THE DAMNED, THE BUZZCOCKS and DESCENDENTS). nothing new about that story.
the film only really got into their legacy in the last 10 minutes of the film, specifically their influence on the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene of the late 1970s and into the 80s HARDCORE scene thereafter. THE DAMNED famously played in LOS ANGELES at THE STARWOOD in 1977 that got the ball rolling for influential bands like THE GERMS, THE WEIRDOS, X, THE SCREAMERS, THE GUN CLUB and THE BAGS who in turn paved the way for second-wave HARDCORE bands like BLACK FLAG, DEAD KENNEDYS, ADOLESCENTS, T.S.O.L., SOCIAL DISTORTION, FEAR, DESCENDENTS and BAD RELIGION among countless others. remember, THE SEX PISTOLS final gig was in SAN FRANCISCO in 1978 and they never made it to LOS ANGELES. THE DAMNED was the de facto PUNK ROCK entry point for musicians during that period in CALIFORNIA and thus the scene is undoubtedly a major part of their legacy. the underutilized interview participants alone showcases a murderer's row of major players in the history and evolution of PUNK ROCK including the likes of CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), MICK JONES (THE CLASH), LEMMY KILMISTER (MOTORHEAD), CHRIS STEIN (BLONDIE), GLEN MATLOCK (SEX PISTOLS), NICK MASON (PINK FLOYD), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), IAN MACKAYE (MINOR THREAT / FUGAZI), DAVID GAHAN (DEPECHE MODE), JACK GRISHAM (T.S.O.L.), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), BILLY IDOL (GENERATION X), GAY ADVERT (THE ADVERTS) and DEXTER HOLLAND (THE OFFSPRING) among others. for more information on the topic definitely check out the following books: JOHN DOE's UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (reviewed HERE), ALICE BAG's VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (reviewed HERE), HENRY ROLLINS' GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG, (reviewed HERE), KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE (reviewed HERE), and KEITH MORRIS' MY DAMAGE: A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR (reviewed HERE),
so yeah, i thought they should have leaned into what made them unique amongst their peers and what managed to translate into the next generation of bands. it is that LINEAGE that i find more interesting than petty squabbles over songwriting credits and royalty payments. its too bad the director didnt lean harder into such as that topic was by far and a way the most interesting at the closing at the documentary.
i recently watched the AHMIR "QUESTLOVE" THOMPSON-directed SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED (SEARCHLIGHT, 2021) documentary about the long forgotten HARLEM CULTURAL FESTIVAL of 1969. and just to cut to the chase, it is an incredible film. THOMPSON, with a deft sense of economy (in his debut project nonetheless), weaves together a running thread of concurrent narratives of everything from COLONIALISM, PAN-AFRICANISM, APARTHEID, THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, BLACK POWER to even the LUNAR LANDING in order to shed context on the meaningfulness of this massive community event in HARLEM. luminaries from the likes of STEVIE WONDER, B.B. KING, NINA SIMONE, DAVID RUFFIN (of THE TEMPTATIONS), MAHALIA JACKSON, MAVIS STAPLES, GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS and SLY STONE among many others participated in this incredible event. someone had the foresight of recording and filming these highly energetic and affecting performances for posterity.
and then just like that the footage sat in a vault for fifty years.
and for me that is the painful admission of this film. the sheer utter expendable nature of the BLACK EXPERIENCE in AMERICA. as glorious as the music is (and it is glorious) and the witnessed psychic connection between audience and artist (especially in regards to the SLY STONE, NINA SIMONE and STEVIE WONDER performances), it is impossible to watch this and not feel a pit in your stomach at how performances this rich and culturally significant was deemed disposable by generations of presumably WHITE gatekeepers in the media. it feels CRIMINAL. its effectively cultural arson. if not for this film, the 1969 HARLEM CULTURAL FESTIVAL would have remained unknown. forget culture for a second, just in terms of history this event would have been significant as it was an attempt to provide energy, optimism and cohesion to an embattled BLACK COMMUNITY in transition from an especially turbulent decade that saw the untimely deaths of numerous leaders and allies as a result of the political progress gained from the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.
i just felt angry watching this film. how did this happen? sadly the same tides of inhumanity and prejudice that crashed down on AMERICAN society back in the 1960s seem to be ebbing and flowing back with greater force in recent years. its unfortunate that most can understand exactly why an event of such artistry and potency could be effectively deleted from our collective memory. WHITE AMERICA still needs to come to terms with its checkered history. its inability to view their fellow countrymen as equal humans. nearly 250 years into this experiment and we are still stumbling out of the starting gate.
SUMMER OF SOUL is a deeply affecting film that should be watched by all and studied and celebrated for generations to come. cant recommend it anymore emphatically.
bands are weird.
its interesting that a band renowned for creating such INTIMATE and VITAL music with seemingly unbounded emotional resonance themselves are so DYSFUNCTIONAL and UNCOMMUNICATIVE with each other. the "loud, quite, loud" within the tile LOUDQUIETLOUD: A FILM ABOUT THE PIXIES (STICK FIGURE, 2006) is a reference to the songwriting formula seminal BOSTON INDIE ROCK band the PIXIES are celebrated and credited with popularizing (quiet verses and loud choruses), but it may also be an apt description of the inter-relational dynamism of the band as a touring unit (quiet off-stage, loud onstage).
the film itself documents their 2004 reunion tour. much had happened since their 1993 split, chief among them the rise and fall of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement which included numerous acolytes, most famously NIRVANA. PIXIES bassist KIM DEAL was able to find critical and commercial success with THE BREEDERS, a project she co-wrote with her twin sister KELLEY, but for the most part all of the other members lived and worked in the shadow of their former group. this includes frontman and main songwriter CHARLES THOMPSON IV (a.k.a BLACK FRANCIS, FRANK BLACK). so the reason for the reunion was pretty much all about money. guitarist JOEY SANTIAGO had a young family at the time and drummer DAVID LOVERING was doing magic tricks (seriously!) to get by for years prior as the royalty and publishing checks dwindled with the rise in online piracy and the collapse of the recording industry. its not surprising and its not disappointing, but it is undoubtedly beyond CLICHE that the PIXIES got back together for financial reasons. i guess i just held their art so much higher than that but these are actual people with real bills to pay. i imagine such is also the motivation and reason for this documentary itself. a film about a band that is OBLIQUE and MYSTERIOUS, even amongst themselves.
but it worked. they charged through births, deaths and even a relapse during their touring cycle. and it lasted nearly another 10 years until KIM DEAL quit before their next release INDIE CINDY (PIAS, 2014). it seems telling that while on tour, three of the four members were working on outside projects. just an interesting visual juxtaposition of sold-out shows enthusiastic crowds with solitary writing sessions alone in hotel rooms and tour buses. my reaction to this film is just confusion about how a band with such obvious preternatural connection onstage is so casually DISCONNECTED offstage. i dont know why that is difficult to comprehend but it is. its too bad the effort wasnt met with an album that included DEAL's haunted vocals which to me are a key ingredient of their sound, period.
interesting film worth checking out if you are a fan of the PIXIES or INDIE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK in general.
a common theme throughout many documentaries concerning PUNK ROCK and its assorted, tangled family tree of sub-genres (HARDCORE, POP PUNK, POST HARDCORE, NEW YORK HARDCORE, etc) is the concern over what constitutes "success" to an artist by definition catering to a niche community. is it being INDEPENDENT and SELF-SUFFICIENT from the larger recording industry? is it making business decisions that cut back on PROFITABILITY or CONTROL but allow your fan base greater access to products, shows and the like? is being PUNK about not making money? to my knowledge, there is no right answer.
and that is the crux of what is at stake in the documentary PUNK ROCK EATS ITS OWN: A FILM ABOUT FACE TO FACE (ANTAGONIST FILMS, 2006), released shortly after the breakup (which would end up being an extended years-long hiatus) of the veteran SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK group FACE TO FACE in 2004. the film is as much about the business and cultural forces that have led to numerous internal lineup changes as it is about the career of the band itself. on the face of it, the band enjoyed a mid-level career where they were signed to independents and mid-major labels (most notably FAT WRECK CHORDS and VAGRANT) and were able to sustain headlining tours for the better part of a decade from the mid 1990s through the mid 2000s.
as with most films about this pre-internet period, where RECORD SALES and the PHYSICAL DISTRIBUTION of product in stores was a paramount concern, it only shows how inverted the whole pyramid has become in the years since. back then you toured to sell records. now you put out records at a loss to make money on the road through ticket and merchandise sales. that obvious fact aside, the through line of the documentary is how the permutations in the lineup mirrored a refinement in focus and intention of purpose with the remaining members. when a founding member became a purist and was philosophically not on board, he was let go to pursue other pursuits (with PULLEY and NO USE FOR A NAME among others). another member becomes too much of a rock star and indulges in selfish behavior detrimental to the unit, same deal. hell, even a member left voluntarily to honorably spend more time with his young children.
as a film PUNK ROCK EATS ITS OWN is pretty bare-bones with extensive interviews with former and then-current members. its spare, no-frills aesthetic plays into the authenticity of the bands itself, who largely escape vanity with badly lit and recorded, horrendously angled, spur of the moment interviews that get at the heart of the band: their connection to the fans. i only wish they had extended the interviews beyond the band and their manager to other bands and fans.
if you are a fan of PUNK ROCK or the 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion, than this documentary is worthy of further investigation. enjoy.
its been documented that when PUNK ROCK migrated from the initial late 1970s HOLLYWOOD scene south to ORANGE COUNTY, that the scene became less artsy and inclusive and more REACTIONARY and VIOLENT. the music turned essentially into a soundtrack to the interactive slam dancing in the crowd which replaced the pogoing of before. once bored jocks and the irrepressibly unruly (skinheads, white power, etc.) infiltrated the scene did things truly DEGENERATE with the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK and the local authorities.
the documentary CLOCKWORK ORANGE COUNTY (ENDURANCE PICTURES, 2012) recounts this transition through the history of the legendary HUNTINGTON BEACH venue THE CUCKOO'S NEST as told by its owner JERRY ROACH and members of local bands T.S.O.L., BLACK FLAG, THE CIRCLE JERKS, AGENT ORANGE, THE ADOLESCENTS, THE CROWD and THE VANDALS and notable fans like SKATEBOARDING legends STEVE OLSON and DUANE PETERS. what transpires is a narrative of bored SUBURBAN, disaffected youth looking for an outlet to burn off some steam that comes from being a product of such a culturally and socially conservative enclave. HARDCORE was a reaction to that tired social milieu as well as the REAGAN ADMINISTRATION and coalesced into one hell of a youth phenomena.
i grew up in ORANGE COUNTY until my family left in 6th grade and to tell you the truth, we never looked back. i remember telling my basketball coach that i was moving to AFRICA and his wife thought that such was a state. seriously. that is the level of naivete and ignorance that was endemic in that environment some 10-15 years after the events that transpire in this film. to say that these kids were raised in a protective cocoon is not hyperbole. ORANGE COUNTY is an inward-facing community that historically is a bastion for regressive REPUBLICAN politics and social conservatism. this film basically allows a view of how such a closed system reacts badly to a new burgeoning YOUTH CULTURE. as they do with all other aspects of foreign influence, they didnt react well. in fact they shut that shit down.
in some ways the HUNTINGTON BEACH scene presented is a microcosm of AMERICAN politics writ large. decades later the contents of this documentary do not feel all that much removed from the unrepentant racist and blatant xenophobic ethos of the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and MAGA world. it feels like our current chaos incarnate. just saying.
there is an arc to INSULAR art and music scenes as they become discovered and heralded by forces outside the COMMUNITY, especially in the pre-internet age. such was famously seen in SEATTLE in the early 1990s whereby a geographically secluded region ironically provided the necessary INSULATION for a cultural evolution to take place with the advent of what became marketed as ALTERNATIVE ROCK. what is very interesting is there was very much a concurrent scene taking place in the COACHELLA VALLEY more than 100 miles east of LOS ANGELES.
DESERT AGE (BACKWOODS, 2016) is a documentary the celebrates that COMMUNITY of artists and musicians associated with the desert scene of the 1980s and early 1990s that initiated and supported that cultural movement up until its collapse as it was discovered and ultimately infiltrated by outsiders. notable interview participants include musicians such as SEAN WHEELER (MUTUAL HATRED / ZEZO ZECE ZADFRACK / THROW RAG), MARIO "BOOMER" LALLI (DEAD ISSUE / ACROSS THE RIVER / YAWNING MAN), BRANT BJORK (KYUSS), BRIAN MALONEY (UNSOUND), PAUL MITCHELL (TARGET 13), IAN TAYLOR (UNSOUND), SCOTT REEDER (DEAD ISSUE / ACROSS THE RIVER / KYUSS), JESSE HUGHES (EAGLES OF DEATH METAL), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS / NIRVANA) and JOSH HOMME (KYUSS) among many others.
what seemed to mark this scene was its DIY PUNK ROCK ethic and internal celebration of EXPERIMENTATION and INDIVIDUALITY. there was no arms race of sorts, as in the nearby LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene, to be the hardest and most HARDCORE band in the area. instead bands were mutually encouraged to seek out their own sound. part of this was just the nature of being in a small closed COMMUNITY with limited resources. famously LALLI had a generator that allowed for concerts to take place beyond the city limits in the vast space of the open desert. that unique venue alone spurred INNOVATION with the upcoming musicians of the area, who had to tackle the concept of playing in such an open venue. at these "generator shows" it would not be odd to have a PROGRESSIVE band play next to a PUNK band and so forth. the ETHOS really was EXPERIMENTATION and seeking out ones own sonic signature. having shows outside the city limits, although LIBERATING in one sense, also allowed for certain local lawless, violent elements (biker gangs, meth dealers) to take advantage of the situation.
i was happy to say that this film did not devolve into an unofficial KYUSS hagiography, as they are the most famous direct export of the scene by far (as the antecedent root for the globally successful QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE). this was my fear and i was glad to see that such an an itch was not scratched. instead the majority of the film outlines how the efforts of key scene initiators like the older SEAN WHEELER and MARIO "BOOMER" LALLI laid the groundwork for the cultural revolution that followed. this film is largely a celebration of their efforts to promote art and music in a barren cultural island whose true identity was the very meth-addled inversion of the popular iconography associated with celebrity playgrounds like nearby PALM SPRINGS.
interesting film worth your time if you have any interest in the desert scene or ALTERNATIVE and STONER ROCK in general.
their catalogue speaks for itself.
the BRITISH indie label CREATION RECORDS during its run had some massively seminal and influential bands, everyone from PRIMAL SCREAM, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, TEENAGE FANCLUB, RIDE, SLOWDIVE and THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN to SUPER FURRY ANIMALS, THE HOUSE OF LOVE, SWERVEDRIVER, SUGAR, SAINT ETIENNE and, of course, OASIS. culturally the label is very much synonymous with the two BRITISH INDIE ROCK exports of the period, SHOEGAZE and BRITPOP. and while all of those bands get their spot in the documentary UPSIDE DOWN: THE CREATION RECORDS STORY (DOCUMENT FILMS, 2010), the focus is on its founder all around INDIE ROCK pied piper, ALAN MCGEE.
the label is very much created in the image of MCGEE, who was a SCOTTISH punk who made his way down to LONDON with his band subsequently decided to put out music by his friends. and that tribal bond was basically the defining ethos of CREATION RECORDS throughout its run. in the film MCGEE even attests to the fact that he signed interesting, creative people and not bands. needless to say, thats an odd tactic but definitely describes the innovative people he brought into the fold including KEVIN SHIELDS, BOBBY GILLESPIE, GRUFF RHYS and NOEL GALLAGHER.
what i found interesting is how the story of CREATION RECORDS mirrors that of other artistic-minded labels in their peer group, many that came out of the existing POST PUNK scene of the previous generation like FACTORY RECORDS. these INDIE ROCK labels were seemingly fronts for producing great art rather than being a functioning business with longterm economic targets and vertically integrated efficiencies. CREATION RECORDS pre-OASIS was in a constant state of owing money to recording studios, printing presses and the like and was under constant threat of being eaten up by a major. its ironic that the period that saw the label at its mid-1990s cultural zenith, the period around OASIS' second record WHAT'S THE STORY (MORNING GLORY)?, also marked their fall into eventually being consolidated and sold to SONY. MCGEE during the entire OASIS period had hit a wall with his drug use and saw him through a long recovery which meant his non-presence at the label allowed for the implementation of structural changes which in turn weakened his hand. this led to the label being swallowed up by a major, who of course had no idea what to do with its idiosyncratic and eccentric catalogue.
but the fact that the label ended in 1999 doesnt reduce its impact. its arguable that the label nurtured the BRITISH INDIE ROCK scene post-SMITHS throughout the late 80s and 90s and laid the groundwork for what would be the last great global rock phenomenon in OASIS. once that genie is out of the bottle its arguable that their legacy was cemented and where do you go from there?
i dont know.
but growing up overseas this label's catalogue was essentially synonymous with my young adulthood, especially MY BLOODY VALENTINE and SLOWDIVE. i love the guy just for giving world those two bands. definitely check out this documentary if you have any interest in music history or ALTERNATIVE ROCK and INDIE ROCK bands from the 1980s and 1990s including SHOEGAZE and BRITPOP. thoroughly enjoyable and required viewing.
mirroring the structure of his twelve-part composition MUSIC IN TWLEVE PARTS (1971-1974), which concerns itself with structural elements like REPETITION and VARIATION, GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS (KINO, 2007) provides a multi-faceted look at the life, career and cultural impact of the legendary AMERICAN modern MINIMALIST composer PHILIP GLASS.
what i especially appreciate about this film is its structure. you get a glimpse of the man from varying perspectives including that of his immediate family, peers including film directors (GODFREY REGGIO, MARTIN SCORSESE, WOODY ALLEN and ERROL MORRIS), artists (CHUCK CLOSE) religious teachers (BUDDHIST, QI GONG and TOLTEC) and mentors (RAVI SHANKAR) as well as intimate collaborators that are a part of his creative team including conductors, sequencers, producers and fellow pianists that help bring his compositions to life in an efficient manner. contrary to the popular imagination of a composer sequestered away in solitude in an ivory tower, here is presented an engage artist that is very much in the moment and of a community. this makes sense, having read his memoir WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC (review linked HERE) where he graciously contextualizes his achievements and career amidst these varying poles of influences. in his memoir he goes out of his way to show the rich PALIMPSEST of layered experiences that were enabled by various teachers and mentors along the way. his personal narrative irrevocably intertwined with theirs. it is refreshing that such a sentiment is foreshadowed in this documentary, which came out less than a decade before his memoir.
the film itself takes place while GLASS is creating his 8th symphony as well preparing his recent opera WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (based on the J.M COETZEE novel) for its opening in GERMANY. its interesting that a documentary which is very much concerned with themes related to COMMUNICATION and CULTURAL APPRECIATION includes a composition concerned with issues related to STATE OPPRESSION and COLLECTIVE SUBJUGATION, which was very much on the mind of everyone at the time given that it was only a few years after the invasion of IRAQ under fabricated pretexts. the opera was very much concerned with COMMUNICATION as a state-sponsored tool for OPPRESSION. seems fitting that an artist so willing to listen and collaborate would be the perfect vehicle for such themes related to INTOLERANCE, HUBRIS and NARCISSISM. definitely quite the juxtaposition.
GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS is definitely worth watching, especially for those interested in the subtle art of creation and collaboration. required viewing in my opinion.
NEW ORDER was notorious for their OBLIQUENESS and SECRETIVE nature, especially with regards to their relationship with the press. which can best be described as "complicated." given how such took the death of their friend and former JOY DIVISION bandmate IAN CURTIS and ran with such, their reticence makes perfect sense.
this effective prohibition on press interactions makes the very concept of a documentary about their career a seeming PARADOX in and of itself. how do you create a film that investigates a subject that by definition does everything in its power to reveal nothing. such is what makes the self-produced NEW ORDER STORY (WARNER, 1993) documentary, which came out the same year as the REPUBLIC (LONDON, 1993) LP, such an intriguing artifact.
in terms of construction, the structure utilized revolves around the knowing SUPERFICIAL ARTIFICE of a tacky game show hosted by KEITH ALLEN to bring up topics such as the death of CURTIS, the formation of NEW ORDER, the meaning of their lyrics and artwork and their relationship with MANCHESTER through their HACIENDA nightclub. requisite intercut interviews with their manager ROB GRETON, business partner TONY WILSON and visual artist PETER SAVILLE as well as the likes of BONO (U2), NEIL TENNANT (PET SHOP BOYS), producer QUINCY JONES and writer JON SAVAGE, all of whom attest to their greatness at one point or another and sadly are largely not interesting in the least.
there is a lot of SARCASM and SARDONIC FLAIR, especially with how each individual member is presented in separate interviews, but in the end you are still left wondering who or what is NEW ORDER. which i guess was kind of the point.
if you would like further insight into the band, id point you towards bassist PETER HOOK's two memoirs UNKNOWN PLEASURES: INSIDE JOY DIVISION (IT, 2012) and SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER (DEY STREET, 2017) regarding his time in both iconic bands (reviews linked HERE and HERE).
skip this documentary entirely. it is bollocks!
noted 19th century RUSSIAN composer, conductor and virtuosic pianist SERGEI RACHMANINOFF has a reputation for constructing compositions that are a bit DOUR and FATALISTIC in nature, but BBC presenter TOM SERVICE in his documentary THE JOY OF RACHMANINOFF (BBC, 2016) attempts to challenge that critical conceit by closely examining the LIFE, CAREER and lasting GLOBAL IMPACT of the famous ICONOCLAST.
the film goes to great lengths to outline the political upheaval and cultural headwinds that defined RACHMANINOFF's life. he was born into a life of privilege and wealth as a member of the aristocracy of mid-19th century RUSSIA, only to see it abruptly dismantled during the BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION in his mind 40s. he would live his life in exile in EUROPE and the UNITED STATES with nostalgia for a former RUSSIA that was now a relic of history. to compound this sense of ISOLATION, RACHMANINOFF is famous for his emotionally-wrenching piano concertos, hymns and symphonies that draw from the same deep well as fellow RUSSIAN ROMANTIC composers like NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV and towering musical icon PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY. unfortunately for RACHMANINOFF his time abroad found him completely out of place in the time of MODERNISM with the EXPERIMENTAL DISSONANCE and challenging compositions of IGOR STRAVINSKY and CHARLES IVES (among many others) being en vogue at that moment. RACHMANINOFF was essentially creating within a FRAMEWORK and a LEXICON that was seen as outmoded during his lifetime. so essentially he was geographically and culturally ISOLATED for much of his life.
so where is the joy?
SERVICE seems to argue that in his music there is an embedded sense of catharsis and relief that comes with acknowledging and reflecting on the most INTENSE and searingly PAINFUL aspects of life. this deeply felt sense of fatalism is also uniquely RUSSIAN in nature he argues. the joy of listening to RACHMANINOFF is taking in those moments of SOLITARY BLISS that come after experiencing the swells of EMOTION and DREAD that preludes them. you also get the sense that there is a hard fought sense of AUTHENTICITY in experiencing these emotions through his music, due to the fact that they were written with a BITTERSWEET sense of intense NOSTALGIA that came with his geographic and cultural DISLOCATION.
not sure i am convinced with the argument, but this was an enjoyable film that further wetted my appetite to further explore the work of RACHMANINOFF in the future.
REALITY 86'D (WE GOT POWER FILMS, 1991) is a documentary parceled together from footage of the last 1986 tour conducted by legendary HARDCORE band BLACK FLAG in support of their final experimental IN MY HEAD (SST, 1985) record. it showcases the final touring lineup of HENRY ROLLINS, GREG GINN, C'EL REVUELTA and ANTHONY MARTINEZ as they make their way around the country playing small venues and dealing with uppity local POLICE, belligerent FANS and deceitful CONCERT PROMOTERS. in many ways this film feels like the documentary version of the ROLLINS' memoir GET IN THE VAN (review linked HERE) which similarly chronicles his touring career with BLACK FLAG and the immense PHYSICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL toll that came with that experience.
given the SPARTAN, self-made, DIY nature of the band and the HARDCORE movement in general, what really strikes me about this film is how UNGLAMOROUS touring life was during this period for an INDEPENDENT band. obviously BLACK FLAG were the early pioneers that blazed the trail, establishing the very UNDERGROUND network of VENUES, BACKYARDS, BASEMENTS and VFW halls that made up the independent TOURING CIRCUIT that later PUNK-influenced ALTERNATIVE ROCK bands of the next decade would commercially benefit from. its a real gift to see how MUNDANE and AWFUL it is to watch a bunch of anemic vegans carting in their own speakers and equipment to shitty venues and then drive the bus to the next town. just the act of watching it feels EXHAUSTING.
and that may be the point. this film really stands as a document of what PUNK ROCK and HARDCORE once was in its infancy. you get the sense that what was lost in terms of creature comforts back in the day was made up for handsomely with a begrudging, hard-earned sense of CAMARADERIE, which is ironic given that this film is essentially a documentation of the breakup of a POWERFUL and massively INFLUENTIAL band.
id consider REALITY 86'D required viewing. definitely worth checking out for anyone interested in the 1980s HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK scenes that paved the way for 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK. compelling stuff.
MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH was one of the towering musicians of the 20th century and arguably the greatest CELLIST that ever lived. his playing very much seemed to be an extension of ego, and it is difficult to discern another musician as utterly engrossed and emotionally committed to his/her instrument with an equal sense of sheer ABANDONMENT and UNINHIBITEDNESS. ROSTROPOVICH was a transformational musician historically as he expanded cello repertoire beyond the established works of JOSEPH HAYDN, FRANZ SCHUBERT, ANTONIN DVORAK, ROBERT SCHUMANN and JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH through personal and professional relationships with MODERN COMPOSERS such as SERGEI PROKOFIEV, DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, BENJAMIN BRITTEN, HENRI DUTILLEUX and WITOLD LOTISLAWSKI. these later composers often wrote cello concertos specifically with him in mind and took advantage of his preternatural virtuosity and deep well of emotional capacity on his instrument.
what makes the recent documentary ROSTROPOVICH: THE GENIUS OF CELLO (BBC, 2011) so compelling is how it paints a portrait of a man whose personal attributes and loyalties seemingly shone just as bright as his artistic accomplishments by those that knew and loved him. specifically former pupils, peers and his immediate family are all interviewed participants in this film. like many SOVIET artists before him (and arguably even RUSSIAN artists before that during the TSARIST reign like PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY, LEO TOLSTOY and ILYA REPIN) there is this dilemma of carrying on as an empathetic, open-minded figure while living in what is effectively a TOTALITARIAN state. paraded as an example of SOVIET exceptionalism since his late teens, and afforded amenities by the state foreign to all but a few of his fellow countrymen, it was ROSTROPOVICH's choice to board author ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN (of ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH fame) at his country home that served as his greatest achievement. this is since this decision effectively estranged him from the SOVIET elites, who sent him to live in exile with his family in SIBERIA for several years. he was belittled and professionally written out of history by the major cultural figures in his homeland during that period, only later praised by his countrymen after the fall of the SOVIET UNION and amid the clamor of universal worldwide accolades. it is odd that RUSSIA has this habit of ostracizing their most creative minds and later holding them up as paragons of NATIONALIST exceptionalism, partly due to their survival from being snuffed out in the first place.
in my estimation, the choice of ROSTROPOVICH to bypass his own security and financial well-being in order to aid his fellow creative SOLZHENITSYN is emblematic of his immense COURAGE and moral righteousness in the face of state sanctioned INTIMIDATION and outright DESPOTISM. it is a commitment that is shared by that of his musicianship, which are both gifts that will ring down throughout further generations. here is a musician and a man worthy of celebration.
GEORGE CLINTON is the man. just want to get that out of the way right at the beginning.
the DON LETTS-directed BRITISH television documentary GEORGE CLINTON: TALES OF DR FUNKENSTEIN (BBC, 2006) recounts his enduring cultural legacy for permanently expanding the sonic and thematic parameters of the R&B/SOUL idiom with his revolutionary, conscious-expanding, psychedelic FUNK bands PARLIAMENT and FUNKADELIC. CLINTON himself is interviewed throughout the film as well as current and former band members, writers and notable acolytes including MACY GRAY, ANDRE 3000 (OUTKAST) and SHOCK G (DIGITAL UNDERGROUND).
one of the big takeaways from the film is how much of a pied piper CLINTON really was and still is, by not only attracting all the eccentric musicians (famously BOOTSIE COLLINS, BERNIE WORRELL, WALTER "JUNIE" MORRISON and EDDIE HAZEL) and experimental artists (PEDRO BELL), but also letting them flourish. PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC was his band, but functioned more as a collaborative party. case in point, he would record with players that were unfamiliar with each other and even have people play instruments they were inexperienced with or make non-vocally trained individuals sing. it all feels very CAPTAIN BEEFHEART-esque in its pursuit of putting to wax something new. this was all, of course, the antithesis of MOTOWN RECORDS and traditional R&B/SOUL music of the period which attempted to project an image of BLACK AMERICA that was contained and dignified. PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC was pure id. unrestrained, unadulterated creativity and artistry. being in the moment and letting your freak flag fly.
it makes total sense to me that the later HIP HOP generation caught up with CLINTON and incorporate his music and, for the most part, the social/political mindset he established with PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC. i speak of essential groups from the NYC HIP HOP, NATIVE TONGUES and WEST COAST HIP HOP movements like PUBLIC ENEMY, DR. DRE, ERIC B. & RAKIM, DE LA SOUL, DIGITAL UNDERGROUND and so on. since the filming of this film i feel his role has yet to wane in modern AMERICAN culture. we are still very much attuned with the mothership connection.
the recording and exhibition of CLASSICAL MUSIC has long been a bit of a creative conundrum in that conductors and musicians are held to perform (with regards to) unrecorded compositions as written, but with little to no information or knowledge regarding the nuances of such. it is a similar situation to that of performing SHAKESPEARE, in which traditions have arisen over the years to effectuate ORTHODOXIES that have largely boxed in creativity and stilted audience expectations of the true potentialities of a text. same with CLASSICAL MUSIC, whose very nature is fairly CONSERVATIVE and SELF-LIMITING in that it asks of its participants to recreate a specific experience, as written and understood by experts who have no first-hand knowledge of what such actually sounded like in its original context. in effect, what is perpetuated through generations is INAUTHENTIC to the spirit of the composer (or at least that is a central argument of this film).
enter the idiosyncratic CANADIAN pianist GLENN GOULD, as presented in the documentary GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD (WHITE PINE, 2009). GOULD is arguably one of the most import musicians of the 20th century, who was so supremely skilled that he could masterfully play various compositions in a myriad of ways with subtle variances in ARTICULATION, FEEL and TEMPO that showcased the power of a composition through alternate (yet equally valid) repetitions. it is because of these variations that he is considered a CHARLATAN by some and an INNOVATOR (whose playfulness was arguably in league with the spirt of the original composers themselves) by others more than 40 years after his death. what cant be argued is that to a certain extent we are very much living in a GOULD-inspired POST MODERN reality right now, where searching for the mirage-like AUTHORIAL INTENTION is largely discarded in favor of personal interpretation and appropriation. case in point is modern-day HIP HOP whereby the original context of found sound is discarded for a newly contextualized and rebuilt sound architecture that innovates new feelings and new meanings. the layers make up the meanings as if in a modern PALIMPSEST.
also, as a musician, what is the point of recording another version of composition whose very intent is to sound like every other iteration recorded before. that intent in and of itself seems like anathema to the spirit of great art in my opinion, which is rooted in APPROPRIATION and INNOVATION.
the other interesting dynamic in this documentary is the solitary figure of GOULD himself and how his sublime VIRTUOSITY was the result of concentrated skilled honed largely in ISOLATION. the fact that he complicated and arguably reinvigorated works by composers ranging from BRAHMS to BEETHOVEN while being secluded in his beloved TORONTO. with musicians in general it is always interesting when introverts become cultural icons and thus public figures. GOULD is contrasted with that of his peer, composer LEONARD BERNSTEIN, who adored public admiration and fed off it in his compositions which fed of grand themes rooted in community. GOULD was reinvigorated when he could shut the world out and concentrate and maintain an uninterrupted communication with his own thoughts and those of the composers he adored.
GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD is a fascinating documentary about the nature of genius. definitely worth watching if you have any interest in CLASSICAL MUSIC or the inscrutable root of ART and CREATIVITY.
there is nothing innately special about the concert film 1991: THE YEAR PUNK BROKE (TARA FILMS, 1992) on the surface.
filmed on tour in 1991 while INDIE ROCK icons SONIC YOUTH was on tour in throughout EUROPE, the film has the requisite backstage antics youd expect from an underground AMERICAN band playing overseas while it was still a novel experience. most of the live songs presented are from SONIC YOUTH, but there is also live footage of BABES IN TOYLAND, DINOSAUR JR, GUMBALL, THE RAMONES and NIRVANA.
and basically everyone who watches this film is well aware that NIRVANA was the band that broke punk into the mainstream shortly after this tour, not SONIC YOUTH. in that sense this film functions as a historical document of NIRVANA, and KURT COBAIN specifically, arguably at their peak before the pressures of success, fame and drug abuse slowly dismantled the group over the next three years. the fact that in this film COBAIN is not the focal point only makes it that much enticing as an portrayal of him during an enjoyable moment in time when he was surrounded by likeminded peers like KIM GORDON, J MASCIS, MARK ARM and the like overseas goofing off and introducing cuts off BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) and the yet-to-be-released NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) to new, unsuspecting audiences. watching that is that moment is the real treat of this film.
speaking of goofing off, there is way too much THURSTON MOORE rambling off bullshit throughout this film. at first it is charmingly annoying but by the end of the film it really is just annoying hearing him go off on tangents leading nowhere. but those pointless interludes in between concert footage only goes to show that this film was originally conceived as a SONIC YOUTH vehicle culled from their footage.
is an interesting historical document with some great live performances by legendary ALTERNATIVE ROCK acts, but if you are looking for something more substantial than definitely check out the documentaries HYPE (review linked HERE), PUNK: ATTITUDE (review linked HERE) and WHEN NIRVANA CAME TO BRITAIN (review linked HERE) for additional context.
the sometimes acrimonious relationship between raw POLITICAL POWER and POPULAR CULTURE continues to be an enduringly provocative subject of inquiry. look no further than current stateside governmental efforts at curbing speech by southern conservative state legislatures and school boards effectively repressing classroom literature or even relevant scholarly pursuits writ large. it is outright embarrassing how pertinent themes of REPRESSION from the documentary THE WAR SYMPHONIES: SHOSTAKOVICH AGAINST STALIN (RHOMBUS, 1997) are to the current AMERICAN experience.
the film engages in a vigorously debated perspective on the career of SOVIET-era RUSSIA composer DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, specifically his 4th through 9th symphonies which parallel the rise to power and depths of depravity that was the reign of JOSEPH STALIN. the film contends that SHOSTAKOVICH was anti-COMMUNIST and that his peers and family correctly interpreted various of these symphonies to be in direct opposition to the horror of the period and STALIN himself, boldly and publicly protesting his reign in plain sight at immense personal risk. it is quite literally a DAVID versus GOLIATH narrative, with SHOSTAKOVICH succeeding in being celebrated in cultural perpetuity for prodding and degrading his political enemy. aural tools utilized in this endeavor included a savant-level use of tones that ranged from the sarcastic, allegorical and passionate to the caustic, mournful and reflective.
what i found interesting about this film is how it is essentially about the mercurial nature of INTERPRETATION. in the 1930s and 1940s when these symphonies were created and performed, officially the only opinion that mattered was that of STALIN. the leader was more interested in perpetuating pastoral themes of plenty rather than polemical themes that revealed the harsh and violent brutality of his regime (with its attendant purges and gulags). its interesting how some SHOSTAKOVICH symphonies were supposedly "misinterpreted" by STALIN and the state, which hints at the inscrutable and ultimately ungovernable nature of ART.
labeled a composer "against the people" by STALIN himself after his "ironic" 9th symphony which pantomimed and ridiculed the hollow sanctioned nationalistic anthems of the period favored by the autocrat
i imagine those that contend with this interpretation are sympathizers who seek to WHITEWASH the evident political ramifications of noteworthy composers (TCHAIKOVSKY), writers (TOLSTOY, GOGOL, CHEKHOV) and artists (REPIN) in favor of promoting a RUSSIAN cultural tradition devoid of historical perspective and pumped with false NATIONALISM.
sounds to me like MAGA, indeed. tragically.
my introduction to SPARKS was through an early 2000s message board where someone posted that JIMMY EURINGER of MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE had the falsetto voice somewhere between SPARKS and TINY TIM. i remember thinking "who the hell is SPARKS" and then proceeding to dip my toes into their impressively vast multi-genre catalogue.
getting into SPARKS is sort of like navigating through the avant-garde THE RESIDENTS discography in that their music is CONCEPTUALLY COMPLEX, almost to the point of being OPAQUE. its apparent none of their work is done at face value and requires intellectual effort on behalf of the listener, which is probably why they are very much a cult band 50 years after their debut. its pretty remarkable that they are still a continuing relevant entity some half century later.
the documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS (FOCUS FEATURES, 2020) is long overdue and gets at the heart of the relationship and ever-developing and deepening artistic collaboration between brothers RUSSELL and RON MAEL. the film includes notable interviews with producers GIORGIO MORODER, TODD RUNDGREN and TONY VISCONTI, former members of their various lineups and peers/admirers like STEVE JONES (SEX PISTOLS), ANDY BELL & VINCE CLARKE (ERASURE), BECK, STEPHEN MORRIS & GILLIAN GILBERT (NEW ORDER/JOY DIVISION), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), NICK RHODES & JOHN TAYLOR (DURAN DURAN), "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC, and FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) among many others.
the film clocks at more than 2 hours and attempts to get at the sheer size of their prolific catalogue and make sense of the genre-defying EXPERIMENTATION that comes to define their career. what comes across is that despite any commercial peaks and valleys in their career, the focus was always on the music and what was coming next. an example is in the late 1970s when PUNK exploded, their reaction was to collaborate with GIORGIO MORODER and make a pop record with sequencers and synthesizers. this obviously predated what followed subsequently in the 1980s. and then when that ran its course they moved on in a more BAROQUE, orchestrated direction. i am having a hard time thinking of a band that went through as many seamless variations with such sudden disparity while maintaining such a quality product. its pretty astounding.
it also makes sense that such jarring right turns limited their commercial prospects as it takes a fairly SOPHISTICATED and NICHE audience to welcome such progression and sharp right turns. thus it makes sense why they have a dedicated audience in EUROPE, so much so that before this documentary i am ashamed to say that i thought they were EUROPEAN. they arent. they are from SANTA MONICA, literraly less than an hour from my childhood in home in SOUTHERN CALIIFORNIA. its a fact i find pretty humorous. but it goes to show how much their music speaks for itself in that it transports its listeners to an alternate aural reality where anything is possible.
and that is also why its interesting to see where they go next. 50 years in and people are still looking forward to what they have to offer. if that isnt a testament to SPARKS, then i dont know what is. definitely cant say that about PAUL MCCARTNEY or any other legacy artist. ok, maybe NEIL YOUNG.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the mythical figure of LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY for me was always this seemingly inscrutable, opaque persona where in interviews he would constantly speak in terms of PROPHECY and claims of DIVINE PROVIDENCE that got in the way of me deciphering a route of connection and understanding to a producer that created some of the most compelling music of the 20th century.
as the documentary THE UPSETTER: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LEE SCRATCH PERRY (PERMANENT MARKS, 2008) illustrates, he is largely responsible for the transition of SKA into REGGAE and was instrumental in the careers of many of JAMAICA's most famous cultural exports, including BOB MARLEY. to some extent he took a back seat in terms of his public persona, preferring to be a behind-the-scenes figure who controlled the boards and the contracts. in the documentary he speaks of MARLEY as "the king" and himself as "the prophet," which is as apt an analogue to the relationship between artist and producer that ive ever come across.
what i found particularly interesting was how his relationship with REGGAE and the community around it broke down. essentially he was being harassed by the police and the local community on a daily occurrence for money at the legendary home studio, the BLACK ARK, that he worked out of. being of generous heart, his home was largely open to the public given his optimistic outlook on people's motives given his RASTAFARIAN beliefs. this was a mistake and he lost everything, his studio, his wife and his connection to a community. the unhinged and impenetrable public persona he carried with him largely until his passing was his guard against intimacy in a sense. if people thought of him as a madman and left him alone, then that is what he wished to be.
its a pretty sad story given that one of the celebrated touchstone talents the elevated JAMAICAN music to a worldwide audience saw such notoriety and fame as something to be feared within the context of his local community. at the time before he burned the BLACK ARK and was being extorted by the police, he had to hire soldiers to provide him security. he was a literal prisoner. there is a moment in this documentary when an unnamed off-camera interviewer in the early 1980s asks him he felt about the passing of his former collaborator MARLEY and his response was that now he was free. he was free from being extorted by his entourage and his fame. he was free from the community that sprang up around his music and depended on him for sustenance and work. its a pretty heart-wrenching sad state of affairs that fame equals being a target for extortion by both familial and power structures in JAMAICA, but such is the case. it makes total sense to me how FELA KUTI in NIGERIA built a literal armed compound (KALAKUTA REPUBLIC) in LAGOS to guard against outsiders and the police while he was working in his home recording studio inside. same sad state of affairs.
watching this film definitely helped me better understand the history of an enigmatic cultural figure whose music ive long cherished. i dont think it is essential to understand one's biography to appreciate their music, but with the case of LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY and his idiosyncratic public persona i think it doesnt hurt. it was seemingly a deliberate smokescreen to ensure his personal safety and to push away those that sought to exploit him. THE UPSETTER: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LEE SCRATCH PERRY is worth investigating for anyone interested in REGGAE and the history of JAMAICAN music. highly recommended.
rapper M.I.A. is a revolutionary figure. i should just get that out of the way from the get-go.
she's revolutionary because of her background as a first-generation immigrant daughter of a founder of the TAMIL TIGERS (an ethnic SRI LANKAN separatist group in open conflict with the corrupt national government). she's revolutionary because she is outspoken about her experience as an immigrant, a status that is universally derided, discarded and intentionally misunderstood by first-world inhabitants. she's revolutionary because she is unafraid to speak her truth. and i wont lie, her flipping off the camera at the SUPER BOWL was probably the greatest thing ever on such a telecast (right up there with PRINCE's rainy performance).
what made her documentary MANTANGI MAYA M.I.A. (CINEREACH, 2018) so compelling is how you see this cultural behemoth finding her identity through 22 years of archival footage shot by MATHANGI ARULPRASAM herself. most interesting is her initial trek to SRI LANKA as an adult, seeking to learn about a struggle she was separated from and the disconnection she felt. as a THIRD CULTURE KID myself growing up in NIGERIA and KUWAIT, i can relate to being stuck between cultures and continents. my whole life i felt disconnected from AMERICAN life which has only been exacerbated during the TRUMP era. i can relate to the experience of being tied to an identity of which you have little control, as an AMERICAN who lived abroad for years in NIGERIA, ALBANIA, KUWAIT, VENEZUELA and MYANMAR. that dilemma definitely hits home. and i believe part of my reason for having so much respect for M.I.A. is her fearlessness in speaking her truth in spite of intellectual charlatans like LYNN HIRSCHBERG and BILL MAHER and the tired conservative media and corrupt political interests they facilitate in effectively silencing and putting down BLACK and BROWN people. its that idea of speaking up for a forgotten population and not shutting up when the WHITE adults in the room tell you to shut up. honestly fuck them.
i dont know how one doesnt respect her fearlessness and moral clarity.
this documentary is also the type of film that makes me uncomfortable in that it showcases the triviality and shallowness with which of our national discussion regarding war and human suffering. i was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to teach secondary english at an international school in MYANMAR a few years back and was taken aback by the dismissive tone by western journalists when discussing the suffering of the ROHINGYA population. apparently AMERICAN blood is more precious. the pain and suffering of BLACK and BROWN people was less newsworthy. same here with regards to SRI LANKA.
again, i am glad for her voice and look forward to her new album. cant wait to see what she chooses to address this go around given the state of the world. i think deep down she knows she has the respect and admiration of her people, so being deliberately smeared by western media conglomerates isnt her worry. it comes with the territory.
it proves that she is dangerous. that she is a revolutionary.