Junun (2015) Review
Sometimes an artist needs a drastic departure in order to grow. This short musical doc is not only about one of those departures, it is one. For a collaboration between the groundbreaking director Paul Thomas Anderson and the groundbreaking musician Jonny Greenwood, it is surprisingly divested of ego. Instead of the usual level of perfection we have come to expect from the oeuvre of these artists, they place emphasis on imperfection, on the raw process, on the joy of spontaneity and discovery.
The project started as a passion of Greenwood’s—a multi-instrumentalist and composer in Radiohead, as well as the composer of all Anderson’s film scores since There Will Be Blood—to further explore the fascinatingly complex world of eastern scales and instrumentation, and the acoustics of unique and found spaces. Greenwood fulfilled this desire by setting out to collaborate for one month with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and a large band of talented Indian musicians in Rajasthan in northwest India. There, Shye Ben Tzur composed music, much of which features himself on lead vocals. In the doc, the recording of the songs is performed live for the camera with incredible passion, dexterity and precision from everyone involved. Greenwood is there with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to round out the music and tie together moods and compositions, all while providing the kind of rich and complex professional recording that this style of music absolutely merits, but rarely receives. The album will be released November 13th, and already a single—the thumping, infectious Roked—is available for download.
The nature of Greenwood’s position in the recording of this album is such that, contrary to expectations, he barely shows up in the final cut of the doc. And that’s not all that’s unexpected. There is almost no dialogue, and most of the 54-minute run time consists of song performances. The in-between spaces are filled with scenes of either relaxation, logistical problem-solving, or practice. This ends up being something approximating the purely musical From the Basement live-documented sessions Radiohead recorded after releasing each of their last two albums—but something about this one is a little different, a little more special. Because, thanks to Anderson’s intuitive lens, the effect of watching these artists tune into each other and share space is that, while appreciating their skill, we can also be swept away by the otherworldly atmosphere manifested by their harmonic presence and creative urge. Clearly, this is a fluid, spiritual experience for them.
And so it is for Anderson. Eschewing everything he has perfected for the world of narrative fiction filmmaking—and even for his recent music video collaborations with Joanna Newsom and Fiona Apple—the director takes a couple of Blackmagic digital cameras and a drone and runs around capturing whatever he can. Very few of his shots feel planned. Like the musicians, Anderson opts to trust his preparation and let the unfolding situation compose itself. And so, between jarring moments of near chaos—loss of focus, shoddy compostion, fidgety zoom-ins-and-outs—we get blissful moments of discovery, almost as if the camera had a consciousness of its own. It’s a surprisingly emotional technique from such a calculated director, and we can feel his playful exultation as he sends his drone soaring out of windows and over cityscapes.
If you love music, if you love art, if you love watching the process of discovery and the application of skill, if you are inspired by watching creators fulfill their mission in peace and harmony, if you are searching for heart-aching beauty and a celebration of the human spirit, then turn up your speakers and give it a shot. Hey, I think you’ll like this one.