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One of the most popular rock groups of the 1970s, Pink Floyd achieved superstar status despite being routinely experimental and often downright bizarre. Indeed the group have proven an enormous influence on numerous contemporary bands - stand up Muse, Radiohead, Linkin Park and 100 others - and remain a wholly credible name to drop more than 30 years since Punk Rock was supposed to have killed off their kind of 'progressive nonsense'. This film traces the path Floyd took after the recording of the Animals album - an era when cracks in the band first started to show - and brings the strange story of the group and the intense relationship between Waters and Gilmour right up to date with the unexpected collaboration of these two maverick musicians at a 2010 charity event. Featuring numerous interviews with Waters, Gilmour, Wright & Mason, liberally interspersed with classic and rare performance footage, plus contributions from friends, colleagues and the finest rock journalists.
On June 25th The Brian Setzer Orchestra headlined the opening of the 2010 Montreal Jazz Festival, performing for over 150,000 people!! This DVD captures the entire blistering 1-hour and 40-minute set which was easily one of Brian's greatest performances ever!! We guarantee this is one of the best rock shows you'll ever watch. That's a lot to say, but we mean it! Contains some amazing and rare bonus footage that fans won't want to miss.
It seems appropriate that a documentary following Radiohead during the aftermath of 1997's OK Computer--an album as conceptual as modern rock can get--should also be high-concept. With that in mind, director Grant Gee has created something truly special with Meeting People Is Easy, a movie revealing that, critically acclaimed or not, the life and times of a rock supergroup can be pretty boring. Rather than focus on Radiohead's songs and concert footage, Gee takes us behind the scenes with his handheld super-8 camera to show us grainy images of the multiple interviews, backstage boredom, and all-around monotony that followed the British group in the wake of their critically acclaimed third album. With a postmodern edge that perfectly suits the band--text from interviews scrolls across the screen, half the camera angles have the appearance of being hidden--and carte blanche to follow the group everywhere they go, Gee's movie makes for fascinating (and anything but boring) viewing. You see, Radiohead's rock & roll lifestyle is one for the 21st century: no TVs thrown out of windows, no M&M candies separated by colors, just plenty of scheduled press interviews, constant touring, and the occasional rehearsal. During the shoot of their "No Surprises" video, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke puts himself through pure agony as he tries to keep his head under water long enough for an extended camera take. ("No Surprises," it should be noted, was also directed by Gee). It's symbolic of the entire film: the band is jumping through hoops while trying (desperately) to maintain their composure. During one of the many press-conference sound bites heard in the movie, Yorke hypothesizes, "OK Computer is about everything being out of control." By the probing looks of Meeting People, that's a fair assumption.
I found a copy of this being sold at a local record shop a few days ago (November 7th to be exact). Among other things, they sell a lot of "tobacco" water pipes and rolling papers so I wasn't surprised that they had this dvd on the shelf before it was supposed to be released. Needless to say, I very excitedly handed over the $21.99 to purchase it.
The two disks in this set are totally different, so I'll comment on them separately.
Disk one is a documentary. It does feature a few songs and some snippets of songs, but for the most part it's interviews. It's not something that I plan on watching again (unlike the concert disk!), but it was very informative. I've been a fan of the Pumpkins since I was old enough to be a fan of anything. And although most Pumpkin fans all miss the glory days of Siamese Dream and the like, I can't help but to have a lot of respect for their willingness to change .. or, should I say, Billy Corgan's willingness to change. Personally, I'm still not sure what I make of Zwan, The Future Embrace, and Billy's decision to break the band up only to reunite it again seven years later. But what I do know, and what this documentary helped me to understand, is that Billy Corgan is the essence of the Smashing Pumpkins, and he's on a journey that will never stop evolving because he as a person will never stop evolving. He explains a lot of struggles he has dealt with, from therapy to trying to understand the fans, and how that has affected his artistic direction. What comes across most to me in this documentary is that Billy truly does want to keep on keepin' on with the Smashing Pumpkins. He wants to give us what he's always given us -- thoughtful songs, beautiful melodies, and superb musicianship. He still knows how to rock our socks off one minute and sing us to sleep the next. That hasn't changed.
The second disk (concert) is fantastic! The sound/video quality are great. I suppose the setlist might leave something to be desired for those looking for a lot of songs from their older catalog, but I was personally very impressed with the new material. Gossamer was a major highlight, and it rocked just as much as the live version of 'An Ode to No One' from the Pumpkins' Music Video DVD. Starla, an old favorite of mine, was also great. Billy's vocals were as good as any other show, Jimmy's playing was amazing as always, and I actually really liked watching the new members. Ginger, their bass player, really seems to have a knack for adding flare at just the right moments in a song. The keyboard player, Lisa Harriton, plays beautifully and adds incredible dimension to the music. Jeff Schroeder, guitar, is new as well, and he can actually keep up with Billy's playing. He has some solo spots throughout and proves over and over to the audience that he's worth listening to. All in all, I love the new SP cast. I'm also glad there's finally a Smashing Pumpkins concert DVD that you can watch all the way through, from one song to the next, without any interruptions or interviews thrown into the middle of it. Lord knows we've all been waiting for this.
Joy Division (The Miriam Collection) (2006)
Tremendous documentary. Interviews with Annik Honore (finally!), Tony Wilson (and not someone playing Tony Wilson), and all of the surviving band members (Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, & Peter Hook) plus Buzzcock Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon, plus music journalist and Joy Division biographer Paul Morley, plus album designer Peter Saville ... this is really a goldmine for Joy Division fans. Truly, an overwhelming amount of detailed information here. Even if you think you've heard it all, stories become more than just talk when told by someone who was actually there. Plus loads of vintage footage of the band performing in various venues. More than I knew existed.
Interestingly enough the documentary starts off with a quote, that I found to be quite compelling:
To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world--and at the same time that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.
--Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts Into Air
This will give you some indication that this is not your typical rock documentary that recounts the rise and fall of yet another generic rock band. This is a rock documentary that is completley different from any that you have seen before, and that is fitting given the subject matter. Manchester, we learn, was in many ways the first modern city. And Joy Division, in many ways was creatively inspired (if that is the right word) by the fact that they lived in a purely utilitarian city designed to maximize economic efficiency. (Bernard Sumner mentions, almost in passing, that he never saw a tree until he was nine.) If Control was primarily a story about a marriage, then Grant Gee's "Joy Division" is about a place and a time: Manchester in the late seventies. This sounds ambitious, and it is, but Gee succeeds brilliantly in giving us an idea of where those mysterious Joy Division sounds & visions were coming from. This is a documentary that attempts to contextualize a band that dared to be culturally significant, and does so in a culturally significant way.
Manchester is both cerebrally & viscerally unique and this is a documentary that strikes to the core of how Joy Division processed the environment that became so much a part of their music. One might almost say that this is a documentary with two subjects: Joy Division & Manchester. Grant Gee certainly has a point of view here, and many of those interviewed here seem to share the belief that there is a "psychogeographic" (at least two of them use that very word) link between the time and the place it was made & the Joy Division sound. This is maybe not a surprising observation to make for it seems obvious that we are all, to a certain extent, products of our environment, but rarely has this oft thought axiom been so well expressed, and few, I suspect, have explored it more thoroughly than Ian Curtis.
This documentary is, in short, everything that Control was not.
It is full of substantial insight.
The most insightful and revealing and moving interview is the Annik Honore interview. She is a very delicate, very sensitive creature, and also one with a very refined sensibility. When she discusses Ian's stage presence and how he transformed into another kind of person onstage it is haunting and one feels that she among all that knew him, knew & understood him best.
The surviving Joy Division, now New Order, band members are surprisingly upbeat. Each of them breaks into laughter very easily when discussing the past. Apparently, the band shied away from playing Joy Division songs until recently.
One particularly memorable moment is when Sumner plays a tape of Ian Curtis answering questions under hypnosis. Sumner asks him to remember a time before he was born and then asks him what he is doing. Ian responds that he is reading books about the law. This is a hauntingly Kafkaesque moment.
Even though producer Martin Hannett (who produced both the Buzzcocks & Joy Division) died many years ago (1991, I believe), he is present here in spirit as each of the band members remembers Hannett's highly unorthodox studio practices; his "zen" method of production as one band member puts it. Hook has been quoted as saying that Hannett is responsible for the Joy Division sound, but he seems to retract that here as he insists that although Hannett made many adjustments to the sound, he didn't write the songs. I think an entire documentary could well be dedicated to Hannett. Music journalist Paul Morley, in his book on Joy Division, states that Hannett is the kind of guy that could have heard the sound of the moon passing round the earth.
Manager, and co-founder of Factory records and the Hacienda, Rob Gretton (who died in 1999) is also remembered. On several occasions Grant Gee silently pans the many pages of Gretton's notebooks full of phone numbers, carefully calculated expenditures, events and plans, some of which came to pass, and some of which did not.
Also memorable: An always lively Tony Wilson discussing a night that he was to give a lecture, and after listening to the previous speaker (Richard Florida) go on about creative communities, deciding to talk about death.
I recently saw Control & was disappointed that so much of the film was spent on the marriage (which makes sense as it was based on Deborah Curtis' biography). But this documentary tells the story that Control did not tell. In fact Deborah does not even appear in this documentary. (Deborah is represented only by a few written quotes.) While Control was Ian & Deborah's story (as Deborah saw it), this documentary is about the whole group & Manchester & music.
Extras: DVD includes the entirety of the Joy Division performance of "Transmission" on the SO IT GOES show. Plus loads of interview extras that take as much time to watch as the actual film, including discussions of everything from WWII (Morris calls it "the first big spin") to synthesizers (Sumners built the first one the band used).
If Control was the populist Joy Division project, this documentary is the thinking mans Joy Division project.
Highly recommended for purchase because there is so much here that bears repeated viewing.
While Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People took on impresario Tony Wilson and Anton Corbijn's Control concentrated on singer Ian Curtis, Grant Gee's Joy Division opts for non-fiction over biopic. Together, the three films create a multi-dimensional portrait of Manchester in the post-punk era. Curtis's minimalist quartet arose simultaneously as a product of and a reaction to their industrial environment. As Factory Records co-founder Wilson states, "I don't see this as the story of a pop group, I see this as the story of a city that once upon a time was shiny and bold and revolutionary." (Wilson succumbed to cancer shortly afterwards.) Written by Jon Savage (England's Dreaming), the narrative follows the oral history form. Aside from the surviving members of the band, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris (Curtis committed suicide in 1980), other speakers include designer Peter Saville, Curtis's girlfriend Annik HonorÃ©, and musician Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle). Only Curtis's wife, Deborah, chose not to appear on camera, so Gee (Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy) uses text from her biography, Touching from a Distance. Loaded with rare audio and visual material, like Joy Division's aborted RCA sessions and manager Rob Gretton's notes, Gee presents the definitive documentary of a timeless band. Unlike Corbijn's stately feature, his stylish tribute ends on a more optimistic note: with the birth of New Order in the 1980s and the re-birth of Manchester in the 2000s. Extra features include 75 minutes of bonus interviews and a BBC performance of "Transmission."
It's hard to find words for what I experience when viewing this video. My husband and I watched it for the first time together and afterwords we agreed we'd have to watch it again to be sure that what we saw was real. This may be a BIT exagerated - but not much! The visuals on this film are extaordinary! The light show is amazing and so well choreographed! The sound is SO good and the musical quality SO superb that I have actually begun to PREFER many of the cuts to the studio versions! I've fallen in love with David Gilmore whose smile makes him look little boyish and sweet. The newly added Floyd musicians look like they cannot BELIEVE who they are on stage with and are having the time of their lives. 145 minutes of SHEER bliss from the first note to the very last! THREE SONGS for an encore - you cannot believe it when it happens! You imagine what you would have thought being at this concert and even getting ONE encore song - when they come out with THREE you are blown away - and they are lavishly done! I don't understand some of the reviewers saying that Gilmore seemed bored and unhappy to be there - seems to me that he is either concentrating on the current guitar lick or smiling at one of the other band members -trust me - he smiles a LOT in this video. I could go on and on but I won't. Let me just say that having already purchased this video I will be one of the first to put out more money the DAY this one comes out on DVD - as soon as we heard that it was scheduled for release on DVD in early 2000 we went out and bought a DVD player - THAT'S how much we loved this concert! My ONLY regret is that I missed it live and it was only 2 hours away from where I live! SIGH... well THAT won't happen again. For someone who wasn't sure she would like the Floyd without Roger - I have become one of their biggest fans! It also renewed my interest in the Division Bell which I had previously not given much time to. Now I am a devotee of that CD as well. Ok - now buy it! OR wait for the DVD! Enjoy.
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Shadowplayers : Factory Records 1978-81 (2007)
I picked this up just on the off chance that I might find the content of interest and I was really pleasantly surprised.
The dvd tells the early history of Factory Records through interviews with numerous (22) participants in well shot interviews. These are not only the main players like Tony Wilson, Peter Hook and Peter Saville but also many unexpected contributors including Annick HonorÃ© from Factory Benelux, Jaz Coleman - Killing Joke, Richard Jobson - the Skids and Chris Wilson - Cabaret Voltaire.
Director James Nice explores the history of the label over 2 hours 15 minutes divided into 19 chapters. These cover subjects like The Factory Club, sleeve art and graphic design, producer Martin Hannett, the riot at the Joy Division concert at Bury in April 1980, the Factory Benelux connection, the tragic suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, the beginnings of New Order and the decline of the post-punk culture in 1981.
This dvd is a must for any fans of the early years of Factory, but be aware that it features very little music. It's mainly all interviews plus some live footage.
probably the best,definitive history of one of post punks most influential bands.Of course this is not just the story of joy division,their history includes factory records,it includes tony wilson and peter saville and rob gretton and alan erasmus.This documentary covers the three year period of JDs recording era,it includes many of the players in their shadows;A certain ratio ,vinni reilly,larry & vinni cassidy and many more building the story.contributions from contemporaries like the buzzcocks and killing joke and cabaret voltaire. and some touching insights from tony wilson and annik honore .unfurtunately hooky is the only band member on film , but is incredibly enlightening An absolute must for anyone interested in this genre.one of the best histories outside of debbie curtis or lindsay reades book.
I'd like to begin this review with my pre-viewing expectations - - ZILCH! I had never heard of this movie, had not viewed the trailer or read the box, I just sat down on my sofa as my husband pressed "play" on the remote and jumped right in with both feet. The first few minutes made me squirm, I was thinking "oh no, a movie glorifying drugs, with lots of F-words and thick accents", but the narration of the main character, Mark Renton, was intellectually stimulating, so I listened more closely and allowed myself to become immersed in the story. The characters in this story are ugly, heroin-addicted losers, but they are portrayed as very real people - - yes, they are bad, but they are not evil. Their lives are extremely grim and repugnant. I've always wondered how people addicted to heroin can live their lives thinking they are living normally, and the addiction is so powerful it renders them powerless to live any other way, but then I realized almost anything can be considered an addiction - - we all wrestle with something, be it our weight, our ethics, our punctuality, etc.. Moments when we convince ourselves it will be the last time, until the next time.
The film makes some interesting comparisons between a "normal" life, and the twisted lives of these characters. You notice small hypocrisies, such as the friend in the pub railing against drug use, while he obviously has an alcohol and an anger-management problem. This film also addresses the issues of loyalty, culture, politics - - with some scathing commentary on consumerism and capitalism - - and some digs at the "Just Say No" and "Choose Life" rallying cries. I particularly liked the ending - - there were no sweeping revelations for the characters, they remained true to their weaknesses, true to their characters.
There are plenty of sad, sick moments, and there are some very funny moments, even through the darkness, and the wit of each character is fantastic. Some of the most imaginative sequences I enjoyed immensely, but felt as though they could've done without the extremism and still kept a good flowing story. Still, they certainly made a strong point in the scene involving the most disgusting toilet in Scotland. As for the dialogue, I am going to have to watch it again, just to make sure I caught it all. My husband and I finally admitted we weren't understanding the dialogue as fully as we would've liked, so we switched to the "hearing-impaired" sub-titles about 30 minutes into the film. The Scottish accents are the thickest!
The acting is terrific, across the board. I was shocked - - just flabbergasted! - - as the film ended and I saw Ewan McGregor was Mark Renton! He looked so gaunt and ill, not the charming and handsome Ewan McGregor of 'Moulin Rouge'!
Definitely not a movie for the kids, 'Trainspotting' is a film everyone should see once, even if the topic is unsettling. Plus, I give it extra stars for utilizing my favorite descriptive noun - - "wanker". I also appreciated the integration of Iggy Pop's song "Lust for Life", knowing that it was written after Iggy had kicked his heroin habit and had a newfound lust for life. I'm just glad to hear that song used anywhere other than car commercials!
With its hallucinatory visions of crawling dead babies and a grungy plunge into the filthiest toilet in Scotland, you might not think Trainspotting could have been one of the best movies of 1996, but Danny Boyle's film about unrepentant heroin addicts in Edinburgh is all that and more. That doesn't make it everybody's cup of tea (so unsuspecting viewers beware), but the film's blend of hyperkinetic humor and real-life horror is constantly fascinating, and the entire cast (led by Ewan McGregor and Full Monty star Robert Carlyle) bursts off of the screen in a supernova of outrageous energy. Adapted by John Hodge from the acclaimed novel by Irving Welsh, the film was a phenomenal hit in England, Scotland, and (to a lesser extent) the U.S. For all of its comedic vitality and invigorating filmmaking, the movie is no ode to heroin, nor is it a straight-laced cautionary tale. Trainspotting is just a very honest and well-made film about the nature of addiction, and it doesn't pull any punches when it is time to show the alternating pleasure and pain of substance abuse.
Kill Your Idols (2004)
Enigmatic and deliberately hypocritical, this is not a typical documentary film.
Taking cues more from video art than journalism, the film is structured thematically and is more complex than a linear historical survey. The editing cleverly compiles interviews with the originators of No Wave, newer bands, and Sonic Youth (the bridge between) into a sort of a dialogue of confession and criticism. The director doesn't conceal the fact that the cuts in editing pervert time, which appropriately comments on the medium of documentary film itself.
Shot in NY homes and streets rather than studios, Kill Your Idols meditates on the notion of nostalgia, time, scene, and music history. The film is unique for the ability to display the intentions of art through the musicians' view whether they sound dignified or not. It's clever and cocky and insightful. There are connections and contradictions. There are no pre-chewed short cuts. The film won't tell you what to think, but it will make you do so.
(The hour+ of special features on the DVD are very worth mentioning and include a lengthy, great featurette.)
"Far more compelling and entertaining than virtually any of this summer's big budget blockbuster movies..."
Llik Your Idols (2009)
It was the eighties and punk was becoming New Wave. A group of film makers decided to set the world on its ear and auteur Nick Zedd coined the phrase ‘transgressive cinema’. With names like Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch and Nick Zedd, these people took the standards of film making and threw them out the window. It was more of getting a reaction in a world that was fighting an uphill battle against the calming effects of Reaganomics. These were people who had something to say and weren’t afraid to say it.
Llik Your Idols was the five year project of French film director Angelique Bosio. She immersed herself in the counter culture that still exists in New York today. Became a part of it and gave us this document of people who changed the way that people would look at cinema forever.
With lengthy interviews with the aforementioned along with the likes of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Joe Coleman, to name a couple, Bosio shows us a group of people who knew what they wanted to say, had a partial grips on the basics of film making and wanted to shock the world. Now, they look back on what they have done and see if it made a dammed bit of difference.
I have always been a fan of Transgressive Cinema. I can remember seeing Richard Kern’s Hardcore and being amazed at what was on screen. I sat through Zedd’s Geek Maggot Bingo and while most people revile that film, I see what he was doing. They shot their films cheap and dirty. Just the filming process alone gave the film a look that would be impossible to replicate today.
Sure, there are a lot of people out there doing things that rebel against the norm of society today. People like William Hellfire, Bill Zebub and many more. But they have it easy. Shooting on videotape and having the internet to ply their wares and get the message out there on a much grander scale. These people had to shoot in the worst conditions, get the film developed and peddle their asses out on the street to get their films seen. And the works shows. They seem more emotionally invested in what they have created and this documentary shows some of that fire that still lies with them.
Bosio has created the definitive documentary on a genre of cinema that goes largely ignored by the masses of today.
From the Basement (2009)
This is the most amazing concert video I've seen. Filmed in high-def at Maida Vale studio, London (where many Peel sessions were recorded) for TV and podcast. Very high quality surround sound, intimate closeups, *no studio audience* -- just bands playing music. The camerawork is like being on the stage -- it's better than seeing the bands in concert: most of these bands only perform in huge stadiums where even the best seats are far away, and tickets would cost many times the price of this disc.
Some of the bands are more enigmatic than others. You can decide for yourself if they are your cup of tea. But even if you don't love Radiohead or the White Stripes, the performances are so intimate and involving that you will want to watch them repeatedly.
If John Peel was still around this is what he'd be producing. Very highly recommended.
"From The Basement" is a new series, showing on IFC in the US, which has a simple premise: "put the music first". There is no audience, no big production, no small talk with a host. The acts go into the studio, set up and play their hearts out in front of the cameras. The mix of artists is eclectic but with an overriding common factor - they really know how to deliver a performance. This DVD brings together some of the best performances from the series so far with many hugely successful bands, including Radiohead, White Stripes, Beck & more.
TRACK LISTING RADIOHEAD 1) Weird Fishes / Arpeggi 2) Reckoner WHITE STRIPES 1) Blue Orchid / Party Of Special Things To Do 2) Red Rain BECK 1) Motorcade 2) Cell Phone's Dead JAMIE LIDDEL 1) In The City THE SHINS 1) Turn On Me 2) Phantom Limb JARVIS COCKER 1) Fat Children NEIL HANNON 1) A Lady Of A Certain Age LAURA MARLING 1) Your Only Doll (Dora) SONIC YOUTH 1) The Sprawl 2) Pink Stream EELS 1) Millicent Don't Blame Yourself 2) It's A Motherfucker ALBERT HAMMOND JR 1) Everyone Gets A Star 2) Postal Blowfish P.J. HARVEY 1) The Piano 2) The Devil SUPER FURRY ANIMALS 1) Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon 2) The Gift That Keeps On Giving DAMIEN RICE 1) Delicate 2) Blower's Daughter AUTOLUX 1) Let It Be Broken JOSE GONZALEZ 1) Abraham 2) High Low THOM YORKE 1) Down Is The New Up 2) Videotape.
Following in the deeply idiosyncratic footsteps of Last Days, About a Son plays more like autobiography than documentary. Gus Van Sant's feature extrapolates moments from the life of Kurt Cobain (with Michael Pitt as a musician named Blake), while A.J. Schnack’s non-fiction film adheres closer to the facts, but advances a more radical Koyaanisqatsi-like approach. First off, Cobain supplies the narration, but the filmmaker avoids pictures of the alternative icon until the end. (He culled the voice-over from interviews conducted by author Michael Azerrad for Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana.) Beyond-the-grave narration isn't a new concept--see Tupac: Resurrection--but Schnack (Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns) ups the ante by excluding talking heads, concert footage, and other staples of the genre. Instead, he uses still and time-lapse photography to explore Cobain's Northwest, i.e. Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle. The artist's unguarded reflections create a sense of intimacy as specific locations illustrate his words. Conversely, the lack of portraiture and self-penned music generates a feeling of absence. The soundtrack combines an ambient score from producer Steve Fisk and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard with Cobain favorites, like David Bowie, Cheap Trick, and the Vaselines (available on a separate CD). For more specifics, interested parties can always turn to tomes by Azerrad, Gina Arnold, Charles R. Cross, and Everett True. About a Son doesn't presume to provide a definitive portrait, but Schnack's rigorous avoidance of convention results in an experience far more dream-like than depressing.
Through many up-close-and-personal interviews, this DVD documents how Nirvana connected with a generation and changed the face of Rock and Roll. They first exploded into the mainstream with the single 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' from their 1991 album Never
A few weeks ago I had an interesting experience. Trying to escape my family, I decide to spend the afternoon at the theater, catching up on some of the movies I've missed so far this summer. I began with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Brad Pitt-Angelia Jolie action/comedy, and followed that up with Gus Van Sant's latest, Last Days. Smith had shoot-outs, car chases and fight sequences galore while in Last Days, well, nothing much seemed to happen. Yet one film had me bored to tears (literally!), while the other kept me riveted to my seat. Want to guess which is which?
If you don't know the answer, I suggest a little experiment. Rent both films when they're released on DVD (Last Days comes out the 25th of October) and just try sitting through the inane, incoherent Mr. and Mrs. Smith after having just watched what I consider to be the best film of the year so far. That being said, though, I strongly recommend seeing Last Days on the big screen. So much of my appreciation of this film comes from it's photography as Blake, a thinly disguised version of Kurt Cobain (played by Michael Pitt), is swallowed up by the vast, empty space all around him. This is a film about isolation, mood, setting, not story, and that's just what's conveyed in it's telling.
Now as anyone familiar with Van Sant's work is sure to tell you, his interest in linear film-making has been waning in recent years, a welcome respite after his two most 'mainstream' films (Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester) failed to live up to the potential of his previous career best, 1991's My Own Private Idaho. And with Last Days, he's finally made his masterpiece, a film for which his two prior efforts are likely to be remembered as dry runs and little more. And as unjust as that may be, you can clearly see a progression from Gerry, a good film, to Elephant, a very good film, to Last Days, a great one and his career pinnacle, much the way as Kurosawa used Kagemusha as a tune up for Ran.
The story, in case you're unfamiliar with Cobain's life (as I was prior to seeing this movie), follows a young musician who, after having recently escaped a stint in re-hab, spends his last days wondering his palatial estate, cooking macaroni and cheese, avoiding his hanger-on 'friends,' and composing lonely, morose songs that cling to your memory long after the movie has ended. It's in these scenes that Pitt, a singer himself, proves that he was the ONLY choice for the role. Often under-appreciated (in The Dreamers and Hedwig & the Angry Inch) or overshadowed (particularly by Ryan Gosling's tour-de-force performance in Murder by Numbers), Pitt's finally allowed to shoulder a feature film and proves himself worthy of comparisons to James Dean and River Phoenix.
If you're skeptical of that statement, just watch the way Pitt is able to convey so much through body posturing alone. His eyes obscured behind his greasy, golden locks for much of the film (with the exception of one particular scene where he's allowed to stare into the camera for seemingly an eternity), and his dialogue reduced to little more than incoherent mumbling, he still somehow manages to let us into the soul of the character. He's on screen for almost the entirety of the film and rarely shares a scene with any of his co-stars, but despite all these obstacles is still able to flesh out one of the best performances of this or any other year.
Of course, much hinges on your opinion of Cobain and his music, though you needn't been a Nirvana junkie to appreciate it. In fact, it wasn't until after seeing this movie that I bought my first CD of his, and in the few weeks since I've managed to consume almost a half dozen books on his life. It takes a rare movie to provoke such an insatiable curiosity in me, an experience which makes this film (oddly enough) incredibly life-affairing.
Damon Albarn can devote himself to Gorillaz all he wants, but he will always be, above all, the frontman of Blur, the pioneer of Britpop, and the inciter of music envy amongst his peers (read: Gallagher brothers). When Blur reunited for that brief and glorious summer back in 2009, there was concern from critics and fans alike over whether or not Blur could ever really be what it was before and if the assemblage of this Colchester quartet was merely an exiguously put together media ploy to distract from the fact that everyone in the band except Damon could probably use an extra pence or two.
With the release of No Distance Left to Run in mid-February, a two-disc chronicle of their ephemeral reunion, Blur may both be delighting and disappointing fans because, while it is a chance to see the most candid portrait of the band since Starshaped (documenting the grueling touring schedule that took place from 1991 to 1994 in promotion of the albums Leisure and Modern Life is Rubbish), it is also a fairly overt indication that there is little hope of any further collaborations. Another augury of the band's definitive culmination was the release of Midlife: A Beginner's Guide to Blur in the posthaste of their 2009 concert frenzy.
The documentary itself (a far too short ninety-eight minutes) is more riveting than the concert performance footage, which includes all of their hits, even "Country House" (probably to Graham's chagrin), and captures a certain amount of the same roguish wit and charm preexisting Blur's post-Parklife phase. Wasting no time in capitalizing on their fans' Britpop nostalgia, Blur opened their July 2 show in Hyde Park with their first single "She's So High" (a song that's worth getting married for, just so you can have it played at your wedding). From there, Modern Life is Rubbish and Parklife seem to be the favored albums, with six songs ("Oily Water," "Chemical World," "Sunday Sunday," "Popscene," "Advert," and "For Tomorrow") performed from the 1993 shifter of music paradigms and eight songs ("Girls & Boys," "Tracy Jacks," "Jubilee," "Badhead," "Parklife," "To The End," "End of a Century," and "This is a Low") performed from the 1994 offering that yielded the battle of the Britpop bands.
The closing song of the show, 1995's "The Universal," is rather appropriate considering the lyrics to the chorus: "It really, really, really could happen." Britain's continued admiration for Blur and the rejoining of the band for a momentary occasion fits in nicely with that line, since no one ever thought that it could happen after all the differences and the squabbles. And they didn't totally dash our hopes for another limited engagement by ending the concert with "Death of a Party." So maybe the film's title No Distance Left to Run is more misleading than meets the eye. Because the band clearly still shares a strong affinity and exudes just as much magnetism as before.
The period documented by this newly refurbished DVD re-release of "Starshaped"--roughly 1991-93--was without a doubt one of the highlights in the history of this now-venerable UK act. Fresh from their initial flush of success, but before they became ubiquitous superstars, "Starshaped" features some spirited live performances and backstage footage that offers a more intimate look at the group than their Best Of collection of videos. The camera focuses most naturally on frontman Albarn, although time is also given to Graham Coxton's quirky and likeable personality, as he cheerily complains of headaches, dehydration and the effects of being on sedatives.
Some fine footage of "Colin Zeal, "Popscene", "For Tomorrow" and "Day After Day" garnish the original video, now with added
concert footage from Kilburn and the Princess Charlotte in '91.
The band is in transition from its earlier, trancy, Stone Roses-influenced sound to the Kink-esque form of "Modern Life Is Rubbish", but it all sounds like excellent guitar-pop with
a heavy psychedelic rush, loving social comment and and topped by Albarn's signature vocal style. He certainly doesn't lack energy throughout, and frequently gets himself into trouble with his on-stage shenanigans (ie when the PA falls on his foot), giving the film at times a Spinal Tap quality (they even visit Stonehenge), although it's all with tongue well in cheek. Blur were probably at their most likeable at this stage, an up-and coming group who would conquer the UK in only a year's time from the release of "Starshaped", a document which certainly gives ample enough justification for their rise and whose US release is now very welcome.