Archive for the ‘Weekend DVD’ Category

Meeting People Is EasyI don’t think there’s been a modern group that has divided people as much as Radiohead. Innovative and experimental rockers to some, miserable whiners to others. Grant Gee’s film Meeting People Is Easy is a chronicle of Radiohead’s 1997-1998 world tour, starting just when Ok Computer has been released. The band had already come on leaps and bounds between their debut album Pablo Honey and The Bends but Ok Computer was so different to what around at the time. Compared to the 60’s and 70’s nostalgia of Britpop, Ok Computer was the first album that really sounded like it could come from the 21st centuary. Never the media-friendly types, the wary band commenced a world tour supporting an album they were convinced the critics would pan. In an amazing opening shot, lavish reviews scroll down the screen whilst the band play “Lucky”. Whilst this is happening we can snippets of interviews of varying relevance (one journo is quickly corrected when he labels the band prog rock).

From then on in the band travel the world, but it’s made to look less glamorous as it would seem. The actual parts where they are playing music on stage are brilliant: shot from strange angles, focusing on one band member during the song or even trained on the audience for a show in Japan. But away from the concert venues, it’s not a pretty story. The constant photoshoots, travelling and interviews are all seen chipping away at band morale. In between this, the neon-lit, nighttime shots of deserted numerous cities only heighten the alienation. The band have gone on record saying it was this bad, and that things they did like go-karting and swimming were left off the film.

It is actually hard to recommend this for anyone other than Radiohead fans. I’m sure a non-fan would want to punch the lot of them in the face after watching this (and indeed, there’s a segment where Thom get’s sulky recording acceptance speeches for numerous awards, where even I feel like giving him a slap). But for fans, this was an is a treat: the access to the band is total, although there are no direct interviews to the camera. There’s also a treasure trove for unrealeased songs and tracks that went onto later albums. Songs like “How To Disappear Completely” and “Living In A Glass House” would go onto appear on Kid A and Amnesiac. Others, like the tentatively titled “Nude” and “Big Boots”, are still to be released.

Radiohead – Nude:

Radiohead – Palo Alto (released as a B-side on the Airbag mini album):

Punk AttitudePunk: Attitude is one of the best music documentaries of recent years. The film chronicles the timeline of punk rock; from it’s roots in 60’s garage rock and bands like the Stooges and MC5 to today’s bands like Green Day. The great strength of the film is the wealth of interviews from all the major players from bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, the Clash, Siouxse and the Banshees, Suicide and Black Flag. Director Don Letts had the enviable position of being there at the time punk happened in London. He was the house DJ at the Roxy in London, one of the few venues to put on punk gigs, playing reggae and dub which had a profound influence on bands like the Clash and the Slits. From it’s early days in London, the film shifts to the United States, where it takes two directions. “Hardcore” was the style that arose from the punk ethos of “short, fast and loud” and takes in bands like Black Flag, the Germs, Agnostic Front and Minor Threat. The more art based “post-punk” took the free spirit of punk and moulded it into something totally new. Bands usually branded post punk were groups like Devo, Sonic Youth, James Chance and Theoretical Girls.

There’s no actual narrative or voice over, so it’s left to the interviewees to tell their stories. All have different ideas and opinions on what is and what isn’t punk and that gives the film it’s biggest strength or flaw, depending on how you look at it. Everyone tends to disagree about everything, whether it’s the roots of punk in the “hippy” 60’s rock, or it’s modern incarnation in bands like Blink 182 or Green Day. Ultimately, punk itself is viewed as more of an attitude and a spirit of non-conformity, rather than just having a mohican haircut. The other big strength of the film is the brilliant footage of some of the classic punk bands performing live. To see groups like Dead Kennedys, MC5, Bad Brains and more is a real joy.

The interviews are good and offer plenty of insight, and most of them are extended in the Extras section, meaning there’s basically a bunch of deleted scenes. Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band) is excitable, but on the point. Jello Biafra comes across as a bit pompous, but again nails it when he talks about the modern day spirit of punk. There’s also a few heavyweights that aren’t featured here; John Lydon and Malcolm McLaren could’ve shed more light on the punk scene in London and it would’ve been interesting to hear from Iggy Pop, the so-called “godfather of punk”. That being said, Punk: Attitude is one of the most enlightening music documentaries I’ve seen.

Director Don Letts talks about Punk: Attitude:

Arcade FireCoachella is probably regarded as the music festival in North America. It’s apparently like Glastonbury but without the potential for bad weather. It’s based in the beautiful Californian desert and is skewed to featuring indie bands both big and small as well as a smattering of dance music and hip-hop. The festival’s been headlined by bands such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, the Cure, Bjork and Tool. This documentary film was released in 2006 and features a lot of the art installations that are littered about the site as well as musical performances from the 6 years of the festival.

Overall the choice of music is pretty good; there’s music from returning indie heroes like Morrissey, the Pixes and the Stooges. There’s also big numbers from Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Bjork. There’s a bit of dance music too from the Crystal Method, fisherspooner and the Chemical Brothers. Obviously because this is an American festival, some of the acts chosen are popular with the indie/college scene, so you’ve got Michael Franti & Spearhead (popular in Australia too), Crystal Method and rapper Saul Williams. Looking through the booklet that comes with the DVD, there’s photos of bands I would’ve loved to have seen on the actual DVD, like Bloc Party, Sigur Ros, MF Doom, Air, Wilco and Mos Def.

Aside from that my only other gripe is a lot of the time, the footage of the bands performing is intercut with interviews either from other bands or fans talking. The Flaming Lips triumphant performance is edited down to just a couple of minutes so we can see Wayne Coyne in his space bubble, which is great but why didn’t we just see the whole thing? Also the 2nd disc has plenty of interview, but I’d rather have just seen more performances on the disc.

That being said, the performances they have are excellently shot and the music is crystal clear. Radiohead’s blinding performance of “Planet Telex” is a highlight, as well as Bjork’s “All Is Full Of Love” aided by a live string section. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that some footage from other songs is cut into the performance, but it’s not too jarring. Overall the vibe is very laid back and relaxed, which probably reflects the festival itself. As a music DVD it’s slightly lacking; maybe the organisers will release a performance only DVD in the future.

Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies):

WilcoSome people really strike it lucky; commercial director Sam Jones thought he was simply going to make a film about the group Wilco, as they went about making their fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The day before Jones started filming, he was told the group had dismissed their drummer Ken Coomer. A good start then. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart would go onto chart the group make an album through creative differences and show the strained releationship between a band and a record label.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (the title of a song the group record for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) actually starts quite positively; the band are in high spirits, new drummer Glen Kotche is fitting in well and the ideas are flowing. The band lay down some tracks, but get bogged down in mixing disputes, arguing over sounds as specific as the way a single drum sounds. Whilst this is happening, singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy, decided to go on a solo acoustic tour, taking comedian Fred Armisen (SNL regular and “Tito” in Anchorman) as his warm-up act. When Tweedy returns, the band make the desicion to fire guitarist/songwriter/engineer Jay Bennet from the group and allow Jim O’Rourke to mix the record. And this is where the problems begin. Up until now the only drama has been your usual creative differences between band members (and all conducted with a lot of civility), but after handing in to their Warner-owned record label, Reprise, the band hear nothing for two weeks.

Not a good sign. Eventually the label gets in touch and requests some changes to the album. The band refuse, and this is what makes I Am Trying To Break Your Heart such a good film; often we hear (or maybe just believe) that bands have to comprimise their vision whilst on a major label. Here is it, happening right on screen, the battle between art and commerce. In the end, the band are released from their contract with the finished album. They then sign to another Warner-owned label, Nonesuch and the album is realeased to massive critical acclaim and becomes the band’s biggest seller.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart has the same problem most rock films have, in that it will appeal to fans of the band most of all, and speaking as one, it is great to see the band work on some of the songs from YHF from acoustic demos to the finished article. But the film does deal with larger issues, especially as the band decide to stream YHF from their website after being dropped from Reprise. In the end, Wilco come out winners; bloodied and unbowed. The film is shot in a stark, but soft black and white and the camera work is never dull, especially during the live sequences. The DVD itself comes with a pretty weighty and informative booklet, a dry but interesting commentary track from Sam Jones and a bonus disc with about 70 minutes of extra live footage.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart clip (audio is a bit glitchy):

Pixies“I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies” Kurt Cobain, 1994. That’s the quote that opens the film and it tells you why the Pixies are one of the most important bands of the last 20 years. That quote was taken from a Rolling Stone interview, where cobain was asked on his influences were, when he wrote “Nevermind”. Back in the late 80’s, the Pixies were the last big underground band; they never signed to a major label, they didn’t sell a lot of records but their music inspired a generations of bands. Ever since about about 2002, there had been rumours of a reunion of the band that broke up acrimonously in 1993. Eventually all the members agreed and performed some small shows in the Midwest of the US. Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin were given complete access to the band, from before the first shows to the completition of the tour.

It’s this access which is what makes loudQUIETloud a treat for Pixies fans. The band have long been media shy and refrain from talking about themselves and the individuals in the group. There’s also a great deal of honesty offered, whether it’s most of the band agreeing that the main reason for the tour is financial or highlighting the frustrations of being in a band with people you don’t really get along with. The four members are each interesting in their own right. Singer Frank Black has to listen to self-motivational tapes before going onstage, despite being the amazing reaction of the crowd every night. Bassist Kim Deal is friendly and upbeat, but trying hard every day not to fall off the wagon and start drinking. Guitarist Joey Santiago is maybe the most well balanced; a devoted family man who’s been taking jobs soundtracking documentaries to make ends meet. Drummer Dave Lovering has a mid-tour breakdown after his father passes away and takes comfort in booze and pills, much to the chagrin of his band mates (Santiago especially).

There’s plenty of great moments that stuck with me, the reactions of fans who had never been able to see the band first time round, Joey meeting his new born son for the first time, Dave Lovering’s on stage cock up where he keeps playing despite the fact the rest of the band have finished playing. Maybe the only flaw with the film is the lack of any kind of narrative or climax; the film simply stops after the first tour. Considering the band went onto headline festivals and massive gigs (like the one I went to in Edinburgh), it would have been great to see the band play to the massive audience’s they should have the first time round. The DVD is pretty good, the picture quality is crisp and the sound is great during the gig scenes. There’s a slightly dry, but informative commentary by the directors and editor, and there’s a glut of deleted scenes which include a visit to Icelandic, post-rockers Sigur Ros’ own studio and an interview with producer Steve Albini.

I’m not really sure if loudQUIETloud will appeal to anyone other than Pixies fans. It does show a compelling portrait of people struggling to communicate despite making brilliant music on stage and captivating people all over the world. It maybe will make people think about the financial realities of what a band on an indie label will go through. As a film though, it’s definately more informative than entertaining.




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