Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Getting lost at the In-Edit Music Documtary and Film Festival

Let's be honest, most films about musicians or bands quite often don't do justice to the quality of the work they're portraying and also have a nagging tendency to turn into an avalanche of clichés or even worse, taint the reputation of the artist's work.  Being able to capture the magnetism of a particular musician or movement on film is a noble feat since it's the experience of listening to the music itself repeatedly and the context in which it took place which creates the powerful affinity of its fans.  As much as a director may try to persuade us why we should be interested in this particular artist, if we don't have any proper bond to compare it to, it ends up being a losing battle.  Documentaries run into similar complications when they decide how to straddle the line between diving into endless wistfulness or just practicing dry reporting.  If you leave room for a bit of intrigue and try not to force-feed the meaningfulness of your subject down the audience's throat, you can lead them along just long enough to tell a great story and hopefully provoke some sort of favorable reaction.  Half a dozen documentaries down and with a list of many more left to see, this year's In-Edit didn't feature anything that left me completely floored but nor did I once feel like I was being given a run for my money.  Here's a chronological run-down to my throughly informative week of grandiose interviews and grainy concert footage:

Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski

A larger-than-life figure if there's ever been one,  Lemmy is made for fans of Motörhead who have a simple image in mind when it comes to their adored front man.  While definitely not lacking in charisma and humorous anecdotes, it feels like an opportunity was lost to explain the resilience of a man who really should have died decades ago.  The film's two-hour fly by at such a frantic pace of laudatory interviews and increasingly bombastic stunts that your left with no room to reflect on where such a man finds inspiration to continue with his self-destructive lifestyle. 

Don Letts

A methodically constructed report on the Notting Hill Carinval's tumultuous history which focused excessively on the individual experiences of a few participants instead of allowing the power of the festival's music to speak for itself.  Though informative and thoughtfully brief, it's unsuccessful in communicating the pertinence of the event in modern times.

Upside Down/The Story of Creation Records
Danny O'Connor

The epic rags-to-riches story of one of the most meaningful record labels in modern history doesn't skimp on showing off its immense repertoire.  We don't need much reminding that Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus & Mary Chain have all released extraoridinary albums but what keeps Upside Down compelling is the constant tumultuous state in which the label existed during its historical run. The unfailing ability of founder Alan McGee to always be on the cusp of what's worth listening to and dive himself completely into a project shown alongside his disquieting detrimental tendencies, make for a figure that's easy to get behind, in spite of Creation's ultimately sinister demise.  
Brian Eno: Another Green World 
Nicola Roberts

Brian Eno has become seemingly untouchable in his intellectual prowess and ability to dabble in various fields of thought.  As a man who transformed the concept of what function music could have in relation to the listener, he's always been more fascinating for his capacity to implement a concept than for his musicianship or cultural background.    Another Green World shows Eno in perhaps his most natural and comfortable environment by taping a series of conversations with various distinguished guests at the artist's home studio.  His insatiable desire to expand his understanding of science and mankind may come off as pedantic for many but it's almost as if his search for truth serves a much more deeper personal purpose than he lets on.  By constantly questioning and researching the world around him, Eno makes us wonder why other musicians must limit themselves in the implications of what their work represents.  This dry presentation of brain candy is less about music but more about the need to discover new answers in an enigmatic world.  

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Yony Leyser

Crude, cold, and impenetrable.  Burroughs undoubtedly made an his ugly mark on modern counterculture movements through his daring willingness to confront the pillars on which our society is built.   His preference to wade in the filth of unadulterated humanity makes for plenty of shocking footage and nutty interviews but the documentary falls flat in deciphering just how he refined the unique craft of his writing to dissect bourgeois values with a rusty scalpel.  This gathering of musicians and artists to heap their praise upon the legend seems like unnecessary lip service for those who have ever read his literary work and doesn't effectively paint the urgency that made the "beat" movement.

High on Hope
Piers Sandersen

This thrilling account of the struggles which the Blackurn-based organizers of the first acid house raves faced in developing what is now a world-wide phenomenon, serves as an example of how music can quickly become about more than just providing entertainment to the masses and turn into an audacious opportunity to stand up and say no to blatant social injustice.  It's distinctive narrative quality made it stand apart from any other documentary at the festival and was a clear choice for this year's jury prize.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dominant Legs - Young at Love and Life

Over the past couple of years San Fransisco has established itself as a sort of mecca for bands looking to rehash the glories of antiquated trends and showcase them as something both current and unfamiliar.  Girls skillfully pulled apart the jangle pop of early Beach Boys and Buddy Holly to turn it into the soundtrack for one of the most intriguing come back stories in recent memory and the latest LP from SF's The Young & Onlys has set them to be the torchbearers for this generation's Nuggests revivalists.  Dominant Legs  continue this course and play glossy pop in the strictest sense of the word though they don't let their chirp obstruct the gravity of the adult questions which canvas the record.

As the gap between adolescence and adulthood continues to grow, young adults are left with more and more time to reconcile their old idealized visions of concepts like "a good life" or "love" in a world that isn't as palpable as it used to be.  Presented with the choice of either retreating from or embracing this uncomfortable fact, front man Ryan Lynch doesn't pretend to have any absolute answers but inquisitively confronts this lost of innocence as perhaps a chance to start over and capture whatever it was that had left.  The EP effortlessly floats along by using whirly keyboards and jubilant percussion to offset this lyrical gloom and instead, these highly personal doubts are presented to listener as an invitation to share in the pair's abstruse journey and not feel so bad along the way.

Dominant Legs - Clawing at the Walls