in the obtuse documentary BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE (CITIFILMWORKS, 1983) by director HOWARD BROOKNER we are provided a rare glimpse into the mind and writings of the influential BEAT writer WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS through not only his narration, but interview footage with peers and acolytes such as ALLEN GINSBERG, TERRY SOUTHERN, LUCIEN CARR, HERBERT HUNCKE, BRION GYSIN, PATTI SMITH, FRANCIS BACON and JON GIORNO as well as his only son WILLIAM BURROUGHS JR (who passed on during the time of filming).
we follow BURROUGHS as he guides us through his past including his time spent as a child in ST. LOUIS as well as his time at HARVARD, medical school in VIENNA, his failed attempt to enlist with the OSS (now the CIA) during WWII and subsequent fall into HEROIN addiction in NYC which was around the time he made the acquaintance of JACK KEROUAC and ALLEN GINSBERG. this continues through his marriage to JOAN VOLLMER and brith of his son through her accidental shooting in MEXICO and his son's eventual death in his 30s due to the chronic effects of alcoholism. littered throughout this personal narrative we find BURROUGHS reading excerpts from JUNKIE, NOVA EXPRESS, NAKED LUNCH, THE WILD BOYS and EXTERMINATOR! among other publications. we learn that NAKED LUNCH was written during his time in TANGIERS in the early 1950s when he was able to make use of the lax customs of local pharmacies to indulge in narcotics.
as a documentary this film was exceedingly dry. this is partly due to BURROUGHS prodding vocal affectations that seem to drone on ad infinitum. its funny, if i wasnt a fan of his work than i would find this film impossible to stomach, but he is a figure that pretty much brought POSTMODERNISM to literature in the 20th century and is a preeminent literary figure among his peers. his work is almost like a collage in art terms or montage in film terms as his cutouts served to provide jagged juxtapositions of concepts, words and phrases that seemingly spawned new visualizations and ideas out of multiple perspectives connected over space and time.
to verbalize his influence on modern culture, which has only bent more towards his worldview in the digital age of fractured realities where truth isnt relative, its irrelevant. seemingly we are in a post-truth and post-morality world where everyone is a JUNKIE for information. brutal low-grade gossip or refined, well-articulated and researched essays all fill the same fix and are mainlined and discarded the same, onwards looking for the next hit.
so this all makes me think that to experience this film expecting a straightforward presentation of a coherent narrative is wholly missing the point. if anything this film is a snapshot that is out of focus and out of context. a brief window into his late life mindset after a long fruitful yet painful career. it is up to his to draw our own conclusions on the worth of his perspective and words. on us to provide the context for this disjointed documentary of a man whose trade was navigating moral and temporal ambiguity.
hosted by BRITISH rapper and poet AKALA, ROOTS, REGGAE, REBELLION (BBC, 2016) is a welcome introductory documentary about the political and religious history of the RASTAFARI movement and its influence on ROOTS REGGAE music and identity of JAMAICANS both home and abroad.
much like the AMERICAN SOUTH, the CARIBBEAN island of JAMAICA was heavily involved with the MIDDLE PASSAGE to satiate its plantations when it was SPANISH and later a BRITISH colony. slaves on plantations were treated cruelly and made to adopt the religion of their oppressor, CHRISTIANITY. the RASTAFARI movement can be seen historically as a means of the local population rebuilding a culture that had been stripped of them by their BRITISH colonial oppressors. a means of connecting with their AFRICAN past and celebrating their heritage and owning their own identity. obviously this put them in opposition to powers that be, before and after gaining independence from the UNITED KINGDOM in 1962. the music that rose from this counter culture promoted empowering ideals of PAN-AFRICANISM, peace, self-sufficiency and liberation.
and for me that is the legacy of ROOTS REGGAE music, its ability to empower the listener. being a BRITISH documentary, it expands the influence of ROOTS REGGAE to the DIASPORA of immigrants in BRITAIN in the 1960s and 1970s and how it helped provided a sense of identity and unity to a disenfranchised community that bore the brunt of systematic racist practices and routine brutality at the hands of the police, not to mention the rise of the NATIONAL FRONT. ROOTS REGGAE galvanized this population, as well as strange allies in the concurrent PUNK ROCK movement, to fight oppression and seek strength in their community. I and I indeed. at its core, ROOTS REGGAE by definition is subversive, which most people forget.
one other compelling feature of this documentary was a brief interview with SLY & ROBBIE, the production dup and legendary rhythm section that worked with PETER TOSH and BURNING SPEAR among many others. they basically breakdown the difference between the basic percussion and bass patterns common in SKA, ROCKSTEADY and REGGAE. essentially SKA and ROCKSTEADY have a similar groove that is heavily accented with a high-hat on an off beat. SKA has a relatively fast tempo and ROCKSTEADY is pulled way back. they are very similar and focused compositionally around the drums. REGGAE on the other hand is wholly based structurally around bass parts with the drums following it. its an entirely different animal structurally and has a very different effect. its one thing to write about it, but this documentary has the duo actually play them.
touches like this make this a great introductory film for the layman unfamiliar with this incredible genre of music that shows the enduring power of music from the AFRICAN DIASPORA. a great entry point to a bigger conversation about global culture and the power of music. all from this small island nation. incredible.
having given up touring in 1966, BOB DYLAN was convinced to return to the road in the mid 70s during the bicentennial with his ROLLING THUNDER REVUE tour, in part to take advantage of the newly lucrative national stateside touring circuit. but things were different this time around as he experimented with minor theatrical elements and the concept of artifice as means of allowing him the psychic space to perform and communicate, ironically, more directly with more honesty. as DYLAN states in this recent the MARTIN SCORSESE-directed documentary ROLLING THUNDER REVUE (NETFLIX, 2019), "when somebody's wearing a mask, he's gonna yell you tell you the truth--when he's not wearing a mask, it's highly unlikely." interesting concept.
made up of archival footage from the period as well as recent and vintage interviews, the film finds DYLAN trekking across a continent anew that was in the midst of experiencing the death throes of the VIETNAM WAR, bitter intergenerational discord as well as political uncertainty with the fall of PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON. it was quite a time in AMERICAN HISTORY and for DYLAN, long-heralded with an unwanted VOICE OF A GENERATION tag by his proponents, he chose explicitly to present himself within the context of a band concept on stage solely armed with new songs that made use of such. if you look closely youll notice such members of the band including T-BONE BURNETT and even guitarist MICK RONSON, straight from his time with DAVID BOWIE after the SPIDERS FROM MARS had broken up. pretty cool stuff. now im not a big DYLAN fan, most of the his work i am familiar with is firmly in the FOLK tradition and comes off as musically repetitive and unimaginative. lyrically hes a genius but as a musician i thought he sucked. sue me. the music here is definitely more BLUES-based and at times comes off quite powerfully with a loose ROCK AND ROLL feel. dare i say with songs like "HARD RAIN" he actually grooves. who knew? and "HURRICANE" is arguably the highlight of the film as it touches on DYLAN's sense of social justice and the redemptive and transformative power of music. maybe its time for me to dive into his catalogue again.
on a slight side note for cinema dorks, SCORSESE deftly intercuts shots of the mime BAPTISTE from the FRENCH WWII classic THE CHILDREN OF PARADISE, which is the ultimate switch-and-bait film of all time. the movie begins with the curtain opening after the credits, cluing you right from the jump that this is not what it seems. the film is highly allegorical with everyone wearing masks, some literal and others covered by aristocratic behaviors deemed acceptable by the rigid FRENCH class system despite diabolical motives. even the film itself, which was made under NAZI occupation, is viewed by many as a coded rebuke against their new superiors. so anyway, if ever there was a film to reference about speaking truth while being physically obscured, THE CHILDREN OF PARADISE is it. sorry, i'm a film dork.
the film itself utilizes performance footage, both rehearsal and in concert, meant to be included in a panned obscure film from the period by a failed scandinavian arthouse director. while some of the behind-the-scenes footage seems listless and meandering on first glance, it also gives you an intimate look at the hangers-on of DYLAN and their goal of being in his good graces. as exhausting as it is to hear these people dribble and drabble on, pontificating about bullshit, you can only imagine how much worse that would be if this was your party and you were the object of their affection. i get it now why he's a recluse.
which brings me a bit to the structure of this film. at the beginning the interview with modern-day DYLAN breaks down on the first question and essentially he just says he's gonna talk about what he wants to. there is no purpose to the film or bigger revelation about life in general in this film, instead DYLAN argues it is all about creation and making things. when the original scandinavian director asks dumb straightforward questions to DYLAN before and after going on stage, again we are left to empathize with him not wanting to butcher the experience on stage into words. language devalues lived experience and as a community we are experiencing this journey once again. again as he states in the film "thought will fuck you up."
i should also mention that on this journey as tour mates and collaborators were such luminaries as JOAN BAEZ, ALLEN GINSBERG, JONI MITCHELL, ANNE WALDMAN, PETER ORLOVSKY, SAM SHEPARD and ROGER MCQUIN.
interesting film worth checking out and revisiting.
filmed at a time when BLUR had reconvened with all original members after nearly a decade apart for a pair of comeback shows at LONDON's HYDE PARK, NO DISTANCE LEFT TO RUN (PULSE FILMS, 2010) finds the the band describing their journey as a band.
and what a journey it has been. BLUR is obviously a preeminent cultural force that found its root in the 1990s BRITPOP scene along with other groups like PULP, SUEDE, ELASTICA and of course, OASIS. in a familiar arc to many a successful INDIE band, they started out playing small clubs and then found incremental successes up until their breakout release PARKLIFE (FOOD, 1994) which found them playing large stadiums to new crowds they felt alienated from.
the two big players in the story are DAMON ALBARN and GRAHAM COXON, the two main songwriters and their reaction to fame, not necessarily each other. ALBARN is shown to be rather workmanlike and very ENGLISH in his attitude of barreling through obstacles and suboptimal situations. he gets pegged as being careerist but i think he is just someone that wants to fulfill his potential and do everything in his power to make his creative efforts successful. in COXON you have a more sensitive, introspective presence (with every bit the equal creative force to his partner) who used alcohol as his way of dissociating from large crowds and screaming girls. its a unique dynamic that was bound to find that partnership eventually grind to a halt, which it did during the recording of THINK TANK (PARLOPHONE, 2003), when COXON failed to show up.
not to get too much into the weeds of business speak, but ALBARN was hurt in that there was an opportunity cost to his involvement with BLUR. he could be doing other projects that interested him but made the record out of loyaly to his longtime mates. the fact that COXON didnt give him that same respect was crushing. and it shows because ALBARN went on to create the massively successful GORILLAZ as well as various eclectic projects that saw him working with AFRICAN musicians and members of THE CLASH and FELA KUTI's AFRICA 80 band and producing various projects. his post-BLUR career saw him spread his creative wings.
COXON put out a series of INDIE / POWER POP albums in the vein of PAUL WELLER and conquered his substance abuse issues and the underlying coping mechanisms. both seemed happy with their position. the HYDE PARK SHOWS for this documentary were a one-off for the fans.
except they werent in the end.
after this documentary they did were scheduled to do some one-off shows in JAPAN in 2013, but those were cancelled and they found themselves in HONG KONG. so they did what any band does when they are waiting to play, they recorded. these ideas were done in a studio and forgotten about. that is until COXON took up the mantle of creating instrumentals that he sent to ALBARN.
at this point ALBARN had a full plate and BLUR was not a priority. but the instrumentals were promising and in a sense it revitalized his creative relationship with COXON, who did the heavy lifting, something he failed to do on THINK TANK. THE MAGIC WHIP (WARNER BROS, 2015) is an iconic BLUR album which is up their with PARKLIFE and their best work. it remains to be seen if this is their last effort but now it really feels like an adequate end to their journey.
this documentary was interesting but incomplete. the story is only 2/3 the way through. if you are a fan of BRITPOP or ALTERNATIVE ROCK in the 1990s this is required viewing.
THE SMART STUDIOS STORY (CONEY ISLAND STUDIOS, 2016) is documentary about the outwardly unassuming yet highly influential recording studio in MADISON, WISCONSIN, that was founded and run by STEVE MARKER and BUTCH VIG. the creation of the studio was at an interesting inflection point in american culture as there was a definite influx of underground HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands that were supported in earnest by college radio and a nationwide network of bars, VFW halls and small clubs not to mention independent promoters and independent record labels and record stores. what connected all these stakeholders in the scene was a sense of self-reliance and DIY ETHIC. maybe its simplistic to say that the puritan ethic of the midwest played a role in this community, but essentially this mindset led to an era of experimentation in music that was free of financial considerations, because none of this was supposed to go commercial. given that VIG was a musician (drummer in local bad SPOONER with future GARBAGE collaborator DOUG ERIKSON) he also had the added benefit of being able to listen and suss out the needs of a band, how to bring out their sound in a fun, experimental atmosphere. he was also able to know firsthand what worked and didn't work from a musician's perspective in "professional" studios. i think his versatility is underrated and part of his work ethic and gets lost in the shuffle when success for his production duties gained global notoriety.
enter NIRVANA and THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, the two bands whose albums NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) altered the landscape for VIG and the underground scene seemingly overnight with the inception of a financially viable ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that was supported by commercial radio, promoters and the commercial infrastructure of corporate AMERICA. this allowed VIG freedom in choosing projects since SMART STUDIOS was now a destination studio and his services a known commodity.
i think given that sea change it is to his credit that VIG along with MARKER and ERIKSON expanded their craft by utilizing technology and incorporating new techniques in their band GARBAGE. for me their incorporation of HIP HOP and ELECTRONICA elements into a new hybrid style are one of the defining sounds of the 1990s. the fusion of such is only that much more impressive given the cultural impact of his celebrated yet sonically more straightforward catalogue of ALTERNATIVE ROCK production work.
its ironic that this embrace of technology is also what brought down the studio, as digital recording software on personal computers made this DIY ETHIC spread to a new prosumer base of musicians. the time had come to move on.
my takeaway from this documentary is that good music can come from anywhere, no matter how far off the beaten path. SEATTLE, MINNEAPOLIS, PORTLAND. in this case WISCONSIN. innovation is a personal pursuit and must be met on its own merits. in many ways BUTCH VIG's career as an established producer was entirely a fluke of circumstance. on the other hand he was talented and was prepared to take advantage of opportunities when presented.
makes me wonder what other crevices of the UNITED STATES or even the golbal scene have i not considered researching. where should i look next? because i'm always searching.
R.E.M. BY MTV (VIACOM, 2014) is a pretty straightforward documentary cobbled together from, you guessed it, archival interview and performance footage of the band on MTV from throughout their career. the result of which is a surprisingly intimate narrative that for the most part is told in first-person from the band's perspective, as well as a sprinkling of record producers, record executives and the like.
the value of this documentary for me had nothing to do with their biography (of which i will spare you any plot summary), but rather the mysterious alchemy that was their songwriting process and how it was affected over time by external factors. in a sense their process was very pure as their was a communal ethic to their process. each brought in material and as a group they would mold it into shape. importantly this was concept was buttressed by the business decision to split publishing royalties evenly, which might sound like a boring detail but you'd be surprised how many bands have fallen by the wayside due to this important decision. over their career there was a sense of group ownership of their material which only deepened their trust in each other as financial incentives were not an issue.
when i think of guitarist PETER BUCK and his sound it very much reminds me of what JOHNNY MARR termed in his memoir as a "anti-Rockist" approach. like MARR, he tends to have a RICKENBACKER sound that can be at times clean and precise in an almost traditional FOLK sense and then impressionistic with suspended chords drenched in reverb. with R.E.M. there is a definite contrarian streak throughout their career and BUCK's guitar approach reflects such. his use of mandolin on OUT OF TIME (WARNER BROS, 1991) and the incorporation of sounds based in electronic music on later albums in the wake of drummer BILL BERRY's departure being prime examples. fundamentally his work, along with the rhythm section sets the tone that singer MICHAEL STIPE reacts to in his lyrics and vocal approach.
obviously STIPE is an iconic and celebrated singer who both popularized the COLLEGE ROCK / INDIE ROCK of the 1980s as well as helped usher in and very much participated in the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the 1990s. but to consider what it was he actually contributed is much harder to discern. its almost like the HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE in that the closer you look, the more you are missing the point. taking his cue from the impressionistic sound of his band, there is an intuitiveness to his lyrics and voice. he almost seems to revel in ambiguity, especially early in his career. songs were more about presenting an emotion rather than delivering an idea. the fact that songs are gender neutral only adds to this ambiguity. only after their initial run of albums did he alter slightly his approach to address the bigger crowds at their shows.
what interests me about STIPE's career is how his writing and stage persona tackled this problem while maintaining his credibility. given his greater platform and the vapidness and skullduggery of dealing with the press, he consciously addressed issues he was passionate about including AIDS awareness, animal rights, gun legislation, LGBTQIA issues, etc. maybe this was influenced by his allies in PATTI SMITH, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, ADAM YAUCH, EDDIE VEDDER and KURT COBAIN, all who similarly fearlessly addressed such matters without fear of blowback, almost inviting it. some find this kind of outspokenness pretentious. some find STIPE's opaque lyrics in general pompous as well. as immortally stated in SPINAL TAP, "its a fine line between stupid... and uh, clever." luckily despite such external pressures, STIPE is the type that of artist that has a strong sense of self and follows his own trajectory.
and for me that sense of purpose is the legacy of R.E.M. even years now after their breakup. they are a great example of not compromising artistically and being commercially viable. and that art vs. commerce balance is quite the tight-rope act.
just the idea of listening to yourself is empowering. thats what i take from R.E.M.
KILL YOUR IDOLS (HUNGER ARTIST, 2004) examines the NO WAVE scene in the late 1970s in the lower east side and is largely a return to the more sonically experimental and lyrically ambitious origins of the PUNK movement (think PATTI SMITH and RICHARD HELL-era TELEVISION). almost ironically given that last statement is the fact that what largely unifies all these bands was their capacity to scrape away and put aside all their influences and create something wholly original. no recycled BLUES riffs, no clever allusions. this was direct, visceral, confrontational music that was meant to alienate the listener and make them uncomfortable.
essentially NO WAVE served as a new cultural year zero.
the music is described by some of the participants as being a byproduct of a deep need to emotional purge themselves. it transmitted a basic consciousness through music that embraced the moment and extreme dissonance of what is essentially ANTI-MUSIC.
this documentary interviews both those initially associated with the scene such as as SUICIDE, THEORETICAL GIRLS, TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS, THE CONTORTIONS and DNA and those who formed bands in its wake like SWANS and FOETUS as well as musicians that were informed by the scene down the line when this documentary was being recorded in the early 2000s; bands like A.R.E. WEAPONS, GOGOL BORDELLO and the YEAH YEAH YEAHS.
whats interesting about this documentary is not the actual music itself, which i find unlistenable by design; it is literally music not meant to be listened to. what interests me is how this brief moment in time freed future musicians to attempt unconventional techniques that embrace dissonance and disharmony into a sound that is wholly listenable and enjoyable to an audience. much like the beats with the cut-out method added the chaos of random chance into their writings to create meaning, this new generation was using the most confrontational of scenes to model their ideas of what was possible in creating harmonious music by nontraditional means. anti-music beget music. they created "new traditions" in DEVO terms. its an interesting idea.
you can see the legacy of this era not just in looped, feed-backed curations of INDIE ROCK bands like SONIC YOUTH and THE BOREDOMS, but also proto-INDUSTRIAL groups like EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN. like all experimental music or scenes based on such they are short-lived by necessity. experimentation calcifies into patterns which turns into modes of expression and techniques that further get introduced as new orthodoxies. thats why bands that truly take on the mantle of the spirit of this scene sound nothing like it.
kill these idols as well no doubt.
documentaries are meant to answer questions that they pose. but what if there is no answer?
that is the basic conceit of HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY (ELEVATOR PICTURES, 2002), a documentary about the mercurial and enigmatic artist RAY JOHNSON. he was someone that lived through his art and had little need for traditional human interaction, choosing to keep his contemporaries at a distance and not partaking in gallery exhibitions and the like. he instead presented himself doggedly to the world through his coded, impenetrable drawings and collage work that he'd mail out.
in many ways his use of the mail was his mode of interaction, which for the 1950s is exceedingly modern to our eyes in the digital age of anonymous monikers using comments sections with the gusto of a late night bathroom graffiti artist. its interesting to watch a documentary where those that speak of him, speak of their inability to get a sense of the man. a total enigma that confused and yet gained the respect of major players in the art world including contemporaries like CHUCK CLOSE, ANDY WARHOL, CHRISTO & JEAN-CLAUDE and ROY LICHTENSTEIN among others.
i can't say i learned anything about the guy. but maybe that was the point. even his mysterious suicide seemed in comparison to his life less baffling. at least with that act there was some finally conclusion being made. or was it? maybe it was just an exclamation point that invited investigators, the public and his peers to reconsider his life and by extension his work. seems his whole life was one long curated performance piece (including his death) and this documentary itself is both the entry point and the ultimate expression of his legacy as an groundbreaking artist.
but really i dont know. i'm still processing this very intriguing film on a most curious individual. its like trying to decipher MARCEL DUCHAMP. answer: you can't.
film director DAVID LYNCH is renowned for his ability to control tone and atmosphere to such an esteem that his surname is now an adjective for such. he is a modern director of the first order but what some in the public fail to grasp is how is career, much like JULIAN SCHNABEL a generation later, is rooted in painting.
THE ART LIFE (DUCK DIVER FILMS, 2016) is a documentary that follows a dual narrative of both LYNCH's telling of his upbringing and connection to art while showcasing him creating a new work on canvas at his studio in the HOLLYWOOD HILLS. it is almost as though the experience of creation in painting is conflatable with that of exploring a unique psychological perspective of uncertain space and time as seen through a camera's eye.
what i gained most about his upbringing was that in spite of its idyllic nature with two loving parents that treated each other well, there was always that unspecified fear of losing that love and affection. in fact, despite his father's fair judgement and loving temperament, any harsh words that resulted from disobedience came down arguably harsher in that environment. KEITH RICHARDS once wrote that his vision of hell was being invisible to those he loved. the threat of distance from his family is a common thread that influenced his character as well as his art. also reminds of the buddha's tenet that suffering is rooted in desire. they are intertwined, as even idyllic situations are rooted in suffering as we attempt to prolong and maintain them. the fear of loss of happiness is suffering in and of itself. that dualism resonates with me when considering his films as well as his paintings and visual film art.
this theme of family is also carried out as we see LYNCH's young child painting side-by-side with him. unencumbered by expectations, the toddler is just enjoying his company and playing with colors on the canvas. you get the sense that this type of boundless joy and seeming amorality towards expectation is something LYNCH strives for. the goal is not a concept or a point, but rather the transmission of an experience, which also describes the experience of consuming one of his films, especially ERASERHEAD (AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE, 1977). i have watched that film dozens of times yet i don't know what it is about, nor am i watching it to decode it. i watch it in order to enter that world.
an alternate time and space.
intriguing film. probably worth viewing if you can suspend expectations of what is usually presented in a traditional documentary. this film is an expressionist take on the individual and his paintings, not a treatise on his films. again, beyond intriguing and worth multiple viewings.
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.
i remember watching the documentary JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND (VICE FILMS, 2017) with a family relative at his house within a year of returning stateside. people had long thought that JIM CARREY had lost his mind based on some "unhinged" interviews he gave in which he questioned the very nature of identity. at best people thought he was attempting to be provocative and at worst, his faculties had devolved to the extent that we were now watching another HOLLYWOOD star in some sort of twisted, psychic free fall in which he had become detached from reality.
this documentary is based on his work in the MILOS FORMAN film MAN ON THE MOON (UNIVERSAL PICTURES, 1999) and the lengths in which he went through to become comedy icon ANDY KAUFMAN. first some background. KAUFMAN was a transgressive comedian who used several outlandish personas that were designed to confront, and ultimately destroy, audience expectations. he would withhold punchlines and gags indefinitely. it almost reminds me how german composer RICHARD WAGNER would utilize leitmotifs in his OPERAS that never resolved, leaving the listener to be more and more enwrapped in the proceedings without a release. KAUFMAN in my opinion was the COMEDY equivalent of such, working on a level that was both juvenile and transcendent. makes total sense that another generational talent in CARREY, a man of many faces himself, would be so intrigued. the footage of the filming showcases CARREY's dedication to being in character, even to the point of speaking with the family of KAUFMAN's in the first person.
it makes sense to me that life as performance art made an impact on how CARREY viewed himself as an individual, even apart from comedy, since in essence we are all performing for each other all the time. but who are we really?
this is where i think CARREY loses people when he talks about their being no individuality and that in essence we all cease to exist. i know my relative fealt that way.
in my mind that was BUDDHISM 101, the idea of ANATMAN or "non-self." there is no soul or unchanging essence that precedes us or follows us into death. the idea of self-hood is a mirage, a biological phenomena that helps us get through our lives but is ultimately a lie. this precept takes root in HINDUISM with the concept of ATMAN, or a self concept, that in some schools is equated with BRAHMAN, or the ultimate reality. its interesting because in the HINDU context, in essence there is also no individuality because we are all in essence an extension, a manifestation of BRAHMAN. any concept of selfhood as being separate from the physical world is a contradiction in terms, by definition you are of this world because it is you.
for me the most interesting nugget in this film is how this idea of a non-self becomes interjected with the acting occupation, where people take on personas for a living. in a sense, any persona is as relevant as any other and, to draw the point home again, we all are engaged in this activity. we all perform according to what the local normative culture requires of us. i personally saw this again and again living overseas when fellow AMERICANS would take on the racial prejudices of the local majority population. it always jarred me but made sense on a certain level, that your sense of self is intertwined with your surrounding context.
the fact that CARREY took this concept to heart doesnt seem crazy at all but a recognition of the false precepts that we all assume are resolute and unyielding when it comes to our sense of identity, yet in actual fact they are all inventions created to help us navigate an uncertain reality,
a fascinating documentary well worth checking out, whether or not you find the humor of CARREY amusing. this film is working on a level far beyond that and i hope it reaches a decent audience, as we are in a downward spiral at the moment based on cults of personality and mass conformity spear-headed by corporate media companies of all political stripes. the message of this film resonates with me far beyond the context of one actor and a film he did in the late 90s.
what doesn't jive with me is CARREY's anti-vaccine horse shit. that's another rant altogether. SMH.
DUNKIRK (WARNER BROS, 2017) is a film very close to my heart.
i should start by mentioning that during WII my great-uncle CHARLES CALIENDI worked for the DE HAVILLAND AIRCRAFT COMPANY and played a major part in designing and testing the MOSQUITO fighter plane for the war effort. he was a very sweet, funny man and i still miss him dearly.
in my mind this film is a love letter to all those who fought and died in WWII, with special focus on the efforts of the ROYAL AIR FORCE and common sea merchants who braved incredible odds and paid a high personal cost to bring their countrymen safely home during the BATTLE OF DUNKIRK.
the film itself focuses on harrowing experiences of the ALLIED forces as they were marooned in the coastal FRENCH coastal town of DUNKIRK awaiting evacuation. as they waited along the beach they were picked off and bombed at will by the NAZI LUFTWAFFE.
where this film excels is its ability to position the audience in the psychological and emotion headspace of the main protagonists: common soldiers stuck on the beachhead at DUNKIRK, RAF pilots and brave sea merchants doing their solemn duty. this is done through a masterclass of visual storytelling, with absolute minimal exposition. this film is really a story to be experienced rather than read as a piece of history.
in particular, there are numerous scenes of random wanton violence. what is truly shocking is the silence shortly thereafter. again, the psychological space that compels the characters, as well as the audience, to piece together meaning from that which is unsparingly violent and wholly unpredictable. in essence we move forward but that silence lingers.
director CHRISTOPHER NOLAN is well-known for his ability to tease out the inner psychology of his characters, despite given genre expectations as seen in his filmography that includes INTERSTELLAR (SCI-FI), INCEPTION (SCI-FI) his DARK KNIGHT trilogy (SUPERHERO) and MEMENTO (NOIR/THRILLER).
in my estimation, his war film DUNKIRK is his finest effort yet. i highly recommend it for anyone interested in the power of filmmaking.
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.