Hey Man, It’s Your Trip: Woodstock

Woodstock movie poster

 

The clas­sic fea­ture doc­u­men­tary Wood­stock cap­tures the full expe­ri­ence of the near-mythical 1969 fes­ti­val of the same name, from sep­tic tanks to traf­fic jams to brown acid. It remains an impor­tant record of one of the most peace­ful spon­ta­neous gath­er­ings in human his­tory, not to men­tion the brief-lived spirit of the hip­pie move­ment as a whole.

The orig­i­nal ver­sion directed by Michael Wedleigh, with a young Mar­tin Scors­ese as assis­tant direc­tor and edi­tor and Thelma Schoon­maker as edi­tor, was released the fol­low­ing year and played con­tin­u­ously in the­aters for years. Oddly, it is the only film that the last sur­viv­ing human on earth (Charl­ton Hes­ton) chooses to watch repeat­edly in The Ωmega Man. A Director’s Cut added 40 min­utes of addi­tional footage in 1994, but the new 40th Anniver­sary edi­tion is a whop­ping four hours long, “Inter­fuck­ing­mis­sion” included. It’s unclear whether or not Scors­ese and Schoon­maker were involved in either of the expanded editions.

The film is exper­i­men­tal in for­mat, extend­ing even to the aspect ratio. Nearly the first ten min­utes are win­dow­paned, lead­ing me at first to sus­pect some­thing was wrong with the DVD. But the movie then alter­nates from win­dow­pane to widescreen to splitscreen. The only other movie I can think of off the top of my head that played as loose with aspect ratios is the open­ing sequence to Frank Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It.

Jimi Hendrix in Woodstock

With a leisurely four hours to fill, the first full 25 min­utes con­cern the arrival of early fans while the stage is still being con­structed. A surely ironic mural on one of the famously psy­che­delic car­a­van buses reads “even God loves Amer­ica.” One of the festival’s most iconic images — a pair of nuns flash­ing a peace sign to cam­era — may have been in fact par­tially staged (as alleged in Ang Lee’s Tak­ing Wood­stock). Based on the mem­oirs of Elliot Tiber, Lee’s film goes on to tell a con­flict­ing, largely dis­counted, ver­sion of events in which a small town mis­fit mid­wifes the fes­ti­val, which in turn frees his iden­tity and trans­forms his family.

The first per­for­mance footage in Wood­stock is an extended unbro­ken close-up of Richie Havens’ intense solo per­for­mance. Finally, the cam­eras turn the other way around and look out at the stag­ger­ingly huge crowd. Indeed, as later scenes make clear, so many peo­ple arrived that the ear­li­est arrivals couldn’t phys­i­cally leave. That such a large num­ber of peo­ple coex­isted peace­fully while quite lit­er­ally being trapped is a minor miracle.

Every­body knows the tale of the gar­gan­tuan crowd, but I under­es­ti­mated the scale of the con­cert itself. In my mind, I always pic­tured a tiny stage dwarfed by throngs of hip­pies, but in actu­al­ity, the fes­ti­val itself would have been a large pro­duc­tion even if the crowds hadn’t mate­ri­al­ized. Before sim­ple logic forced the orga­niz­ers to waive the ticket fee, the fes­ti­val had a multi-million-dollar bud­get foot­ing a mas­sive stage, huge tow­ers, power, food, light­ing, and sound system.

A scene from Woodstock

Not all the acts would nec­es­sar­ily be known to later gen­er­a­tions watch­ing the doc­u­men­tary, but there is some sur­pris­ing vari­ety in genre; Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie’s folk, Sly and the Fam­ily Stone’s funk, and Sha-Na-Na’s retro pop went a long way towards break­ing up the some­times tedious stretches of blues-rock jam­ming. Some key per­for­mances either weren’t filmed (such as The Band, at their request) or shot but excluded from the film (par­tic­u­larly The Grate­ful Dead, whose per­for­mance was com­pro­mised by heavy rain and tech­ni­cal issues), and some of the era’s top acts were absent alto­gether (most notably The Bea­t­les, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones — but Scors­ese would later catch up with all three of them in his own doc­u­men­taries Liv­ing In the Mate­r­ial World, No Direc­tion Home, and Shine a Light). Per­son­ally, I most liked see­ing The Who and Jimi Hen­drix at the height of their pow­ers, and was pleas­antly sur­prised by an obvi­ously ner­vous Crosby, Stills and Nash. CSN claimed it was only their sec­ond gig, and they seemed vis­i­bly relieved to receive applause. Each act was allot­ted only 1–2 songs each, even in the extended ver­sion of the film, which for many of these artists is not enough. I would have liked to see more Who footage, espe­cially the famous moment where the often tem­pes­tu­ous Pete Town­shend famously booted coun­ter­cul­tural icon Abbie Hoff­man off­stage: “Fuck off! Fuck off my fuck­ing stage!”

Inter­views with audi­ence mem­bers dur­ing the con­cert demon­strate that they were already self-mythologizing the event as it was occur­ring around them. A leg­end quickly spread that the gath­er­ing was the equiv­a­lent of a spon­ta­neous city. Not quite, but the actual total of 500,000 peo­ple was noth­ing to sneeze at. But they were all cor­rect that it was noth­ing less than a mir­a­cle that that many peo­ple could gather in one place and sur­vive a mas­sive storm on the sec­ond day, all with­out vio­lence. That is, aside from Town­shend again: “The next fuckin’ per­son that walks across this stage is gonna get fuckin’ killed!”

The film includes co-organizer Michael Lang and con­cert­go­ers fac­ing hos­tile inter­view­ers deter­mined to express their bias that rock music is empty and mean­ing­less. Scors­ese empha­sized sim­i­lar con­fronta­tions in No Direc­tion Home, where Dylan is dogged by con­de­scend­ing reporters deter­mined to under­mine his polit­i­cal and social import.

Wedleigh’s cam­era often seeks out nude young women. The bla­tant scopophilia misses the point of the bur­geon­ing equal­ity between the sexes by the late 60s — not only are the hip­pies embrac­ing free love, they’re also obvi­ously com­fort­able enough in each other’s com­pany to bathe together like chil­dren in a bath­tub. I can’t believe I’m com­plain­ing about the sight of naked girls, but Wedleigh’s cam­era is often just plain lustful.

Aside from free love and unashamed nudity, the next most alien aspect for con­tem­po­rary post-War-on-Drugs view­ers is the prag­matic atti­tude towards con­trolled sub­stances. One of the first peo­ple seen bran­dish­ing a joint onscreen is none other than Jerry Gar­cia, despite his band not appear­ing in the per­for­mance footage. Everybody’s heard about the infa­mously dodgy brown acid, but dig this emi­nently prag­matic announce­ment issued from the stage: “Hey man, it’s your trip, don’t let me stop you, but if you feel like exper­i­ment­ing, try half a tab.” In con­trast, we see a huge crowd prac­tic­ing Kun­dalini yoga, which the guru espouses as an alter­na­tive to drugs.

One of the most strik­ing sequences is when the doc­u­men­tary steps back from the pro­ceed­ings to take in another angle that wouldn’t ordi­nary be cov­ered in a typ­i­cal con­cert doc­u­men­tary. Wedleigh takes the time to meet a Port-O-San main­tainer with one son attend­ing the fes­ti­val and another fly­ing heli­copters in the Viet­nam DMZ.


Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:

 

The Ultimate Six-String Summit: It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud movie poster

 

It Might Get Loud indeed, when three gen­er­a­tions of rock gui­tarists con­vene for the ulti­mate six-string sum­mit. Jimmy Page (rep­re­sen­ta­tive of 1970s sta­dium rock and, with Jeff Beck and Eric Clap­ton, part of the canon­i­cal trin­ity of gui­tar heroes) joins The Edge (child of the punk/new wave era but also para­dox­i­cally a bit of an egghead) and Jack White (stu­dent of Amer­i­cana and free­wheel­ing blues-rock of The White Stripes and the Racon­teurs). The three had no doubt crossed paths before now, but prob­a­bly never had a chance to pick each other’s brains, let alone trade licks and jam.

Direc­tor Davis Guggen­heim also made the Al Gore doc­u­men­tary An Incon­ve­nient Truth and the soc­cer drama Gra­cie, but the core con­cept came from Thomas Tull, pro­ducer of Bat­man: The Dark Knight. As White quips in one of the DVD bonus fea­tures, he thought Page would make a fine Joker.

The Edge in It Might Get LoudU2’s The Edge is a child of the punk/new wave era but is also para­dox­i­cally a bit of an egghead

Through­out, White is con­sid­er­ably more witty and spon­ta­neous than the oth­ers, both ver­bally and in his effort­less impro­vi­sa­tion. In com­par­i­son, The Edge some­times seems ret­i­cent and com­pa­ra­bly tongue-tied. Con­sid­er­ing his noto­ri­ety as the man that intro­duced cod-Satanism and Tolkien into Led Zeppelin’s lyrics and iconog­ra­phy, Page is quite the dap­per Eng­lish gen­tle­man. He arrives in a chauf­feured Rolls, while White and even The Edge drive them­selves to the set.

Jack White in It Might Get LoudJack White, of The White Stripes and The Racon­teurs, keeps it real

While Page and White share a back­ground in the blues, The Edge comes from some­where else alto­gether. He’s long been more inter­ested in son­ics and tex­tures than in impress­ing audi­ences with fleet-fingered tech­nique. Page was, for a time, one of the biggest rock stars in the world, but of the three, The Edge has enjoyed per­sis­tent fame the longest. He states with total con­vic­tion that This is Spinal Tap was, for him, not funny at all: “it’s all true.” A deleted scene answers a ques­tion I’ve long had: U2’s nick­names date back to their child­hood, and now even The Edge’s mother now no longer calls him David.

There’s no need for an onscreen inter­viewer when no one else would know bet­ter what to ask these three men than each other. When gui­tarists get together for gabfests, a nat­ural topic is to wist­fully rem­i­nisce over their first instru­ments (The Edge and White still own and play theirs). Their con­ver­sa­tion is inter­spersed with short ani­mated sequences and price­less early footage, with relics includ­ing embar­rass­ing very early footage of U2 as gawky teenagers.

All three have enjoyed com­fort and suc­cess for quite some time, so it comes as a rather awk­ward shift in tone when they are called to reflect on times of cri­sis in their careers. None were instant stars. Page’s early anx­i­eties are the most inter­est­ing; he became a highly suc­cess­ful ses­sion gui­tarist fairly early on (work­ing largely in the now-forgotten musi­cal genre of Skif­fle), but real­ized he was look­ing at a cre­ative dead-end. He found release in The Yard­birds, a fer­tile caul­dron that famously also included Beck and Clap­ton at var­i­ous times, and arguably invented hard rock. The hair came down, the pants flared, and the cello bow came out. Multi-instrumentalist White recounts a child­hood sleep­ing on the floor in a room too crowded with drums to leave room for a bed, and found­ing his first band while work­ing the lonely job of fur­ni­ture uphol­sterer. The Edge recalls the con­tem­po­rary polit­i­cal tur­moil of Ire­land as a back­drop to his anx­i­ety over being “just a gui­tarist” and pos­si­bly never a song­writer. From this cri­sis of con­fi­dence came the polit­i­cally charged U2 stan­dard “Sun­day Bloody Sun­day.” His sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to U2 were delib­er­ately obscured by the unusu­ally demo­c­ra­tic band; it’s only recently that they have begun to talk more openly about their inter­nal divi­sion of labor (gen­er­ally, Edge demos the music, Bono sup­plies the lyrics, Larry works along­side the pro­ducer, and Adam is res­i­dent sartorialist).

Jimmy Page in It Might Get LoudLed Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is now quite the dap­per gent, but was once an infa­mous 70s bad boy that intro­duced cod-satanism and Tolkien to sta­dium rock

The nat­ural wish is for the three to strap on their gui­tars and jam. So as each is cel­e­brated as much for their song­writ­ing as for their chops, they take turns teach­ing the oth­ers one of their sig­na­ture tunes. The Edge’s chim­ing “I Will Fol­low” riff fails to take off, but Page’s “In My Time of Dying” pro­vides a bed for some fan­tas­tic slide-guitar solos from all three play­ers. The cli­mac­tic clos­ing tune is ill-chosen; The Band’s “The Weight” is with­out a doubt a great, clas­sic song, but not much of a gui­tar showcase.


Offi­cial movie site: www.itmightgetloudmovie.com

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Design is how it works: Gary Hustwit’s Objectified

Objectified movie poster

 

Objec­ti­fied finds its the­sis in a quo­ta­tion from one of history’s prime indus­tri­al­ists, Henry Ford: “Every object, whether inten­tional or not, speaks to who­ever put it there.” In other words, every­thing we select, pur­chase, and inter­act with, was first designed and man­u­fac­tured by a skilled arti­san. That person’s job is to obsess about you, your body, needs and habits, and how their prod­uct might become a part of your life. Direc­tor Gary Hustwit’s pre­vi­ous doc­u­men­tary fea­ture Hel­vetica (read The Dork Report review) was a cel­e­bra­tion of typog­ra­phers and graphic design­ers, and inspired laypeo­ple to rec­og­nize the long his­tory and great labor that went into the type­faces they use every day on their com­puter screens. Sim­i­larly, Objec­ti­fied pro­files the often unknown indus­trial design­ers behind the stuff we buy.

Jonathan Ives in ObjectifiedJonathan Ives’ inner sanc­tum. After con­duct­ing this inter­view, Apple had the film­mak­ers shot.

Apple’s res­i­dent guru Jonathan Ive is per­haps the most famous design auteur fea­tured. Ive is prob­a­bly the sec­ond most famous per­son at Apple, justly acclaimed for his sin­gu­lar design aes­thetic that first caught the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion with the bondi Blue iMac and then the stark, white, decep­tively “sim­ple” iPod. Ive’s boss Steve Jobs famously said that design is “not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works,” a prin­ci­ple born out in Ive’s work. Know­ing inside and out the par­tic­u­lars of dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als and man­u­fac­tur­ing is just part of design­ing a product’s exter­nals. Ive bran­dishes precision-tooled parts from a dis­as­sem­bled Mac­Book Pro to illus­trate that Apple spends an enor­mous amount of time and resources not just design­ing their prod­ucts, but also the cus­tom machines and processes nec­es­sary to mass pro­duce them.

Naoto Fukasawa in ObjectifiedNaoto Fuka­sawa rethinks the CD player.

Objec­ti­fied spends some con­sid­er­able time on the topic of sus­tain­abil­ity, a respon­si­bil­ity that regret­tably only recently entered the indus­trial designer’s job descrip­tion. Valerie Casey of IDEO relates the incred­i­ble anec­dote of the dif­fi­cult process of devel­op­ing a new tooth­brush. When the prod­uct is finally ready and in stores, she embarks on a much-needed vaca­tion to Fiji. If you didn’t already guess where this story was going, she finds a dis­carded IDEO tooth­brush washed up on a beach halfway around the world. In less than a week, her prod­uct had become pollution.

Objec­ti­fied nec­es­sar­ily makes a brief detour into inter­ac­tion design (this brief digres­sion would be wor­thy of a film unto itself, but in the mean­time, the curi­ous can refer to Steven John­son’s 1997 book Inter­face Cul­ture: How New Tech­nol­ogy Trans­forms the Way We Cre­ate and Com­mu­ni­cate). When we inter­act with most ana­log prod­ucts, their form fol­lows their func­tion. As a thought exper­i­ment, would an alien from outer space (or a Tarzan raised in the wild) be able to infer an object’s func­tion sim­ply by look­ing at it? That is likely the case with a spoon or chair, but not so much with an iPhone. For many prod­ucts of the dig­i­tal age, the out­ward form fac­tor gives no clues as to the func­tion. Thus, inter­ac­tion design was born with the Xerox PARC graph­i­cal user inter­face. Many of our daily tasks are now abstracted onto a two-dimensional screen. The Apple iPhone and iPad have pop­u­lar­ized the touch­screen, which likely sig­nals the begin­ning of another sea change when periph­er­als like key­boards and mice will be revealed to have been a tem­po­rary evo­lu­tion­ary bump, now marked for extinction.

still from ObjectifiedAwww yeah, design­ers know what time it is.

The last images we see are of the devices used to make the movie itself: a com­puter, hard drive, and cam­era. Tellingly, the Objec­ti­fied Blu-ray edi­tion has no menu struc­ture at all. You put it in, it plays, and the sup­ple­men­tary fea­tures fol­low imme­di­ately after the clos­ing cred­its. It’s a com­pletely guided, lin­ear expe­ri­ence that speaks to the film’s ele­va­tion of the cre­ator over the consumer.


Offi­cial movie site: www.objectifiedfilm.com

Must read: A Hur­ri­cane of Con­sumer Val­ues by Alissa Walker

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:

 

Waltz With Bashir

Waltz With Bashir movie poster

 

Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir could eas­ily be filed away under any or all of the fol­low­ing gen­res: doc­u­men­tary, auto­bi­og­ra­phy, mem­oir, jour­nal­ism, and non­fic­tion. If there’s one thing all of these have in com­mon, it’s that none make for nat­ural car­toons. The excep­tion that proves the rule is Mar­jane Satrapi’s Perse­po­lis (read The Dork Report review), which began life as a pair of graphic nov­els before being adapted into an ani­mated fea­ture film. Waltz With Bashir takes the oppo­site route, start­ing as a film and end­ing up as a book. Could ani­mated ver­sions of Joe Sacco’s Pales­tine and Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale be far behind?

Fol­man has lost his mem­o­ries of a key expe­ri­ence dur­ing his ser­vice in the Israel Defense Forces dur­ing the 1982 war in Lebanon. A con­ver­sa­tion with a friend sparks a frag­ment of mem­ory involv­ing the Sabra and Shatila mas­sacre. The Israeli Defense Force sur­rounded Pales­tin­ian refugee camps in Beirut, but stood by as the Pha­langists, a Chris­t­ian Lebanese mili­tia, entered and mas­sa­cred a still unknown num­ber of Pales­tin­ian civil­ians. Was he really there, as he now seems to rec­ol­lect? Did he have any­thing to do with it?

Waltz With Bashir

Fol­man speaks of mem­ory as “some­thing stored in my sys­tem,” as if his brain were merely a com­puter, dis­as­so­ci­ated from any cul­pa­bil­ity in the mas­sacre. He merely wit­nessed it, but it was enough for him to sub­con­sciously erase his mem­o­ries over the inter­ven­ing years. He seeks out old com­rades in the search of some­one else who served with him and may help fill in the blanks in his mem­ory. Like a detec­tive story, the search for clues pro­vides a use­ful sto­ry­telling device while pro­vid­ing an episodic nar­ra­tive structure.

The title refers to a fel­low sol­dier that madly waltzed with a machine gun while sur­rounded on all sides by Lebanese fight­ers. “Bashir” is Bashir Gemayel, the assas­si­nated Pha­langist com­man­der lion­ized by Lebanese, and a celebrity on a scale that one Israeli likens to how he felt about David Bowie.

Fol­man is an artist as well as a film­maker; at one point he asks one of his old friends if it’s OK to sketch his fam­ily dur­ing their inter­view. His visual sense man­i­fests in Waltz With Bashir’s stun­ning images, com­po­si­tion, and color. Like Star Wars: The Clone Wars (read The Dork Report review) and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Com­plex, it fea­tures stiff, sim­pli­fied char­ac­ters atop fully-rendered 3D envi­ron­ments. Human faces are crudely ren­dered with small looped expres­sions, when not totally still (note that the 2D vec­tor ani­ma­tion is not the same tech­nique used in Wak­ing Life or A Scan­ner Darkly). They con­trast sharply with the fluid move­ment of the detailed, com­plexly lit vehi­cles, back­grounds, and weapons. If such styl­ized human fig­ures were a delib­er­ate artis­tic choice, what is to be gained? A few pos­si­ble explanations:

  • As recent CGI movies like Final Fan­tasy: The Spir­its Within, The Polar Express, and Beowulf have proven to their detri­ment, the uncanny val­ley (the point at which a sim­u­la­tion of a human becomes almost, but not quite, real­is­tic and thus creeps audi­ences out) is a very real prob­lem fac­ing ani­ma­tors as tech­nol­ogy pro­gresses. All three of these are tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vels, but the human char­ac­ters are still just one step away from dead-eyed zombies.
  • In the most prac­ti­cal sense, ani­ma­tion is use­ful to cre­ate images of his­tor­i­cal events where no cam­eras were present. Fol­man does recount see­ing jour­nal­ist Ron Ben-Yishai boldly film the afore­men­tioned fire­fight in which his friend had his machine-gun-waltz with Bashir, so per­haps some actual footage existed for reference.
  • The dream­like unre­al­ity of ani­ma­tion plays into Folman’s theme of the muta­bil­ity of memory.
  • Like Isao Takahata’s stun­ning Grave of Fire­flies, ani­ma­tion makes it slightly eas­ier to watch painful images. Takahata’s emo­tion­ally drain­ing film involved a lit­tle girl slowly starv­ing to death after the World War II fire­bomb­ing of Japan, and Waltz With Bashir fea­tures such images as a field full of dying horses and the corpse of a child buried in rub­ble. The end of the film snatches away this dis­tanc­ing tech­nique; we finally see archival footage of the massacre’s aftermath.

Waltz With Bashir

Is it fair to crit­i­cize the film for tak­ing the Israeli point of view in a story about the Sabra and Shatila mas­sacre? Save for one woman that appears in the actual footage seen at the end, Pales­tini­ans lit­er­ally don’t have a voice in the film. But nei­ther, for that mat­ter, do the Pha­langists. In the case of this his­tor­i­cal event, Israelis were pas­sive bystanders, nei­ther vic­tims (as they were dur­ing the Holo­caust) nor oppres­sors (as they are now over the Pales­tini­ans — I invite objec­tions in the com­ments below, please). If to bluntly ask what Waltz With Bashir is for, it does three things: First, it’s a med­i­ta­tion upon the com­plex­ity and unre­li­a­bil­ity of human mem­ory. Sec­ond, it’s an act of jour­nal­ism; return­ing the Sabra and Shatila Mas­sacre to the pub­lic con­scious­ness. Third, it’s one man’s per­sonal com­ing to terms with his past.


Offi­cial movie site: www.waltzwithbashir.com

Buy the DVD and graphic novel from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Religulous

Religulous movie poster

 

Standup come­dian and occa­sional b-movie star Bill Maher remade him­self into a satir­i­cal polit­i­cal pun­dit on the cable TV shows Polit­i­cally Incor­rect and Real Time. He most famously spoke truth to power when he defied the con­ven­tional wis­dom after 9/11 and cor­rectly stated that one thing the per­pe­tra­tors were not were cow­ards. Not sur­pris­ingly, he was swiftly fired by Com­edy Cen­tral. Had he stopped there, his arguable legacy would have been to blaze the trail for the likes of Jon Stew­art and Stephen Col­bert to crossover from the gut­ter of com­edy to main­stream polit­i­cal pun­ditry. Maher’s peer Al Franken went even fur­ther, from heck­ler to actual polit­i­cal participant.

But Maher was not con­tent to stop there. His lat­est incar­na­tion is, for bet­ter or worse, the pop­u­lar face of a grow­ing move­ment against orga­nized reli­gion. Unlike the ratio­nal sci­en­tist Richard Dawkins (mostly ratio­nal, that is; his recent state­ments against children’s fan­tasy lit­er­a­ture like Harry Pot­ter reveal him to be at best a killjoy and at worst a cen­sor) and the even more stri­dent Christo­pher Hitchens, Maher uses com­edy and out­right mock­ery to advance the cause of athe­ism in the some­times dis­turbingly theo­cratic Amer­i­can soci­ety. This Dork Reporter is on his side, but isn’t sure Maher and his movie Religu­lous is really what athe­ists need to com­bat the encroach­ment of church upon state. As Michael Moore is to lib­er­als, so too may Maher be to athe­ists every­where: is he really the best spokesperson?

Bill Maher in ReligulousA Jew and a talk show host walk into a bar… oh, you’ve heard this one?

Religu­lous teams Maher with direc­tor Larry Charles, also respon­si­ble for the high-concept low art Borat: Cul­tural Learn­ings of Amer­ica for Make Ben­e­fit Glo­ri­ous Nation of Kaza­khstan (2006) and Brüno (2009). While Borat and Bruno fall on the faux­men­tary end of the con­tin­uüm, Religu­lous skirts with being an actual doc­u­men­tary but stops short of pre­ten­sions to impar­tial­ity. Maher and Charles talk their way into enemy ter­ri­tory like the Holy Land Expe­ri­ence theme park in Orlando, the Cre­ation Museum in Ken­tucky (a tem­ple to the denial of basic sci­ence that would be hilar­i­ous were it not such an astound­ing cel­e­bra­tion of will­ful igno­rance), and the Truck­ers’ Chapel in Raleigh. Maher and Charles may have used sub­terfuge to gain access, but the fin­ished film is open about their decep­tion. The film­mak­ers openly brag over such stunts by proudly includ­ing footage of the Holy Land Experience’s pub­li­cist freak­ing out at the pres­ence of a bunch of god­less lib­er­als armed with a cam­era. All of this atti­tude is actu­ally not nec­es­sary; the film is at its best when Maher allows his inter­vie­wees to sim­ply talk their way into deep graves (which most of these intol­er­ant igno­ra­muses do with great gusto).

My biggest issue with the movie is its use of satir­i­cal edi­to­r­ial jux­ta­po­si­tion that on at least one occa­sion is out­right racist. I agree it’s fun to snicker at clips of cheesy old bib­li­cal movies, easy to mock the nau­se­at­ingly con­fused “for­mer homo­sex­ual” Pas­tor John Wescott of Exchange Min­istries with snip­pets of gay porn, and chuckle at the bald scam being run by José Luis de Jesús Miranda, a Puerto Rican claim­ing to be the direct descen­dent of Jesus Christ. But Maher refers to African Amer­i­can preacher Pas­tor Jere­miah Cum­mings’ gold jew­elry as “bling” and inter­cuts footage of a com­i­cally stereo­typ­i­cal pimp. Wescott is obvi­ously in deep denial, and Cum­mings and Miranda are despi­ca­ble crooks out for noth­ing but their own profit, but such cheap­shots are uncalled for.

Bill Maher in ReligulousAnd on the third day, Jesus went to Orlando

In the midst of all this fer­vent mad­ness, it’s some­what sur­pris­ing that the Catholic Church and even the Vat­i­can itself come across as the most enlight­ened. Maher is kicked out of the Vat­i­can proper, but meets with the supremely sane and ratio­nal Father George Coyne, head of the Vat­i­can obser­va­tory. Coyne is one man of the cloth, at least, that does not deny sci­ence or cel­e­brate igno­rance. Maher also strikes inter­view gold with the hilar­i­ously out­spo­ken for­mer Vat­i­can scholar Father Regi­nald Foster.

The plot thick­ens! Maher does not actu­ally self-identify as an athe­ist. As he told The Onion’s A.V. Club,

I’m not an athe­ist. There’s a really big dif­fer­ence between an athe­ist and some­one who just doesn’t believe in reli­gion. Reli­gion to me is a bureau­cracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an athe­ist, no. I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a sin­gle par­ent who writes books.

Whether Maher posi­tions him­self as an athe­ist or merely a cru­sader against oppres­sive orga­nized reli­gion, he takes a kind of glee­ful pride in it. Smug athe­ists can be just as insuf­fer­able as holier-than-thou the­ists. Even before becom­ing a self-appointed voice against reli­gion, Maher had become some­what infa­mous for louche behav­ior (dat­ing and some­times mar­ry­ing strip­pers, fre­quent­ing the Play­boy Man­sion, etc.). His out­spo­ken opin­ions and tabloid-ready behav­ior prob­a­bly don’t help the­ists take him seri­ously. I imag­ine most fun­da­men­tal­ists pic­ture athe­ists as being like Maher: proud, con­de­scend­ing, and shirk­ing of the respon­si­bil­ity of religious-derived morals (in other words, not hav­ing hell to moti­vate them to not sin). What I think believ­ers need to under­stand is many peo­ple arrive at athe­ism only after pro­tracted peri­ods of dif­fi­cult soul search­ing, and aren’t nec­es­sar­ily smug about it.

Religu­lous may be preach­ing to the con­verted, but it can’t ever hurt to keep the pres­sure on those that would oppress and exploit oth­ers by claim­ing to have the ear of God.


Offi­cial movie site: www.religulousmovie.net

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

The Mindscape of Alan Moore

The Mindscape of Alan Moore movie poster

 

DeZ Vylenz’s feature-length doc­u­men­tary about the life and work of writer Alan Moore was made in 2003 but not released until 2008. The delay might be eas­ily explained as that of an inde­pen­dent production’s typ­i­cal strug­gle for fund­ing, but it’s hard not to guess the tim­ing of this par­tic­u­lar film’s lav­ish release as a deluxe double-disc DVD may have some­thing to do with Moore’s cur­rently ele­vated pro­file. The long-awaited the­atri­cal adap­ta­tion of Moore and Dave Gib­bons’ sem­i­nal graphic novel Watch­men finally hits the­aters on March 6 2009, after almost 2 decades of fits and starts in Hol­ly­wood limbo.

The Mind­scape of Alan Moore is essen­tially an extended sit-down inter­view with Moore, inter­cut with evoca­tive imagery evok­ing God­frey Reggio’s Koy­aanisqatsi: Life Out of Bal­ance. It moves too quickly to focus on any one aspect of Moore’s long career, and it’s pos­si­ble to glean more insight into the man just by read­ing one or two inter­views. But it’s appar­ent that Vylenz’s true inter­est lies less in Moore’s comics work than in his prac­tice of magic. More on that later.

Alan Moore in The Mindscape of Alan MooreThe charmer from Northhampton

Let’s be frank; Alan Moore is a weird cat. As more than one per­son has described him, he’s a truly great writer that has cho­sen to work in “The Gut­ter” (as it amuses Neil Gaiman to call it): comics. Which is to over­sim­plify; some of his other work includes sev­eral per­for­mance art pieces and the stun­ning prose novel Voice of the Fire. All this has left Moore a cult fig­ure, under­es­ti­mated even by many fans. He is prob­a­bly one of comics’ best-known names, but while his friend Gaiman fre­quently tours the globe like a rock star, he’s happy to stay at home in North­hamp­ton. Like Stan­ley Kubrick, he has an unfair rep­u­ta­tion as a kind of eccen­tric recluse, but report­edly the actual truth is that he is a warm and friendly per­son who sim­ply wishes to enjoy life in his home town and prac­tice his art.

Moore began writ­ing comics in the 1980s Reagan/Thatcher Cold War era, which informed the para­noid and apoc­a­lyp­tic air of V for Vendetta and Watch­men. One par­tic­u­lar fic­tional night­mare of Moore’s that he per­versely enjoys to point out is V For Vendetta’s accu­rate pre­dic­tion that CCTV sur­veil­lance would blan­ket Eng­land by the late 1990s. But fur­ther on the topic of polit­i­cal oppres­sion, Moore affirms that while con­spir­acy the­o­ries are every­where you look (the act of look­ing cre­ates them, one might say), in fact there are no con­spir­a­cies. If the world is rud­der­less and chaotic, con­spir­acy the­o­ries are mere comforts.

The Mindscape of Alan MooreV approves of this post

Against his inten­tions, his dark take on the super­hero and sci­ence fic­tion gen­res was rad­i­cally influ­en­tial in the wrong way. Fans and cre­ators who didn’t grasp the deeper themes behind Watch­men for­ever steered comics into grim and gritty stu­pid­ity, mim­ic­k­ing the super­flu­ous sex and vio­lence with­out the sub­text and lit­er­ary merit that Moore snuck in the back door. On its sim­plest level, Watch­men could be described as what the world would be like if there actu­ally were such a thing as super­heroes. The answer being: totally dif­fer­ent and yet exactly the same. But look­ing deeper, Watch­men is actu­ally about the dan­ger of those that pre­sume to the power to change the world. It’s impos­si­ble to read Watch­men now, two decades after its cre­ation, and not to com­pare the book’s true vil­lain (whom it would be a cruel spoiler for me to name here) with George W. Bush’s mis­ad­ven­tures in the Mid­dle East. Bush and Watchmen’s vil­lain both man­u­fac­tured wars with the pre­sump­tive belief that they were des­tined to save the world.

Moore believes that while a knowl­edge and appre­ci­a­tion of how cin­ema works can inform comics, there are things that only comics can do. If comics cre­ators only work with movies in mind, their comics will be like “movies that don’t move.” So, as a result, most of his work was essen­tially “designed to be unfilmable.” This Dork Reporter wor­ries that the forth­com­ing adap­ta­tion of Watch­men will carry on the tra­di­tion of miss­ing Moore’s point, and will sim­ply be a dark, nasty, and depress­ing story of vio­lence, sex, and deprav­ity star­ring super­heroes in sexy tights.

Rorschach in The Mindscape of Alan MooreRorschach’s cameo appearance

Moore declared to friends and fam­ily on his 40th birth­day that he was a magi­cian. That’s not “magic” as in the pulling of rab­bits out of prover­bial hats, but as in the explo­ration of areas out­side the realm of sci­ence. Magic is the explo­ration of what sci­ence does not cover, but some­times sci­ence describes the world in ways that might sound like magic. Col­lab­o­ra­tor Dave Gib­bons points out the Heisen­berg Uncer­tainty Prin­ci­ple, in which the more we learn what makes up mat­ter and the mate­r­ial world, the less sub­stan­tial it all seems. We can’t observe or mea­sure it; there’s noth­ing there.

Moore defines magic as “The Art,” and if art is the manip­u­la­tion of words and images to alter con­scious­ness, then art is magic, and a writer is a magi­cian. As Moore says in an inter­view with Daniel Whis­ton, his best gri­moire (or book of spells) is actu­ally a dic­tio­nary. Moore believes writ­ing is a “trans­for­ma­tive force than can change soci­ety” but by the 21st Cen­tury, writ­ing is seen as a mere enter­tain­ment. Whereas once, in less ratio­nal or sci­en­tif­i­cally enlight­ened times, writ­ers were feared. A witch could curse your crops or your health, but a writer could afflict you with a satire that could cause an entire com­mu­nity to laugh at you, and worse, for pos­ter­ity to con­tinue to laugh at you gen­er­a­tions after you die! Now, the power of magic is not only under­es­ti­mated, but abused. Adver­tis­ers work magic every day by manip­u­lat­ing and anes­thetiz­ing peo­ple en masse.

The Mindscape of Alan MooreDoc­tor Man­hat­tan as Da Vinci’s Vit­ru­vian Man

Moore posits the exis­tence of what he calls “Idea­space,” the land­scape of the mind and spirit. The var­i­ous sys­tems of magic, like the Tarot and the Kab­balah, are maps to Idea­space. He describes how writ­ers and musi­cians some­times feel like they are tap­ping in to some­thing beyond them, as if merely tak­ing dic­ta­tion. I myself once felt a faint, pathetic lit­tle echo of I think what Moore is talk­ing about. A high school friend and I used to com­pose and record instru­men­tal music for gui­tar and key­board. Our com­po­si­tions were of vary­ing degrees of seri­ous­ness, many just silly fun, but some fairly ambi­tious. While jam­ming around one of our sil­li­est tunes, I still swear I heard a melody in the music that nei­ther of us had played yet. My friend couldn’t hear it even when I fig­ured it out on the gui­tar and played it over the back­ing tracks we had already recorded. Per­haps I was just hear­ing musi­cal over­tones that were lit­er­ally present in the sound waves, but I remain con­vinced that, as silly as that par­tic­u­lar song was, I very briefly con­nected into some kind of world of music. I don’t feel like it was a piece of music that I wrote, more like some­thing that was already there, wait­ing, and I just had to hear it and play it back onto tape.

But if Idea­space is real place full of “infor­ma­tion” (non­ma­te­r­ial ideas and inven­tions), humans are accu­mu­lat­ing infor­ma­tion at an expo­nen­tially increas­ing rate, and Moore pre­dicts an apoc­a­lypse of sorts. If it con­tin­ues at this rate, the accu­mu­la­tion of infor­ma­tion will accel­er­ate to a point where it will effec­tively approach infin­ity around 2015. He doesn’t know what will hap­pen, but poet­i­cally describes the event as soci­ety reach­ing a boil­ing point and “becom­ing steam.” Moore’s ideas here are sim­i­lar to Ray Kurzweil’s notion of the com­ing Sin­gu­lar­ity, the point at which com­put­ers become so advanced that they can act of their own accord, and improve them­selves, and in effect become con­scious. What Moore has to say here is both fas­ci­nat­ing and fright­en­ing, but the film falls down by lit­er­ally illus­trat­ing his big ideas with overly lit­eral spe­cial effects sequences show­ing North­hamp­ton burning.

Other filmed sequences reen­act scenes from Watch­men, V for Vendetta, and John Con­stan­tine: Hell­blazer (a series ini­tially writ­ten by Jamie Delano, but star­ring the char­ac­ter Moore cre­ated for Swamp Thing). It prob­a­bly seemed extremely unlikely in 2003 that any of these prop­er­ties would become big-budget Hol­ly­wood films, and yet they now all have. In par­tic­u­lar, the two sequences from Watch­men and V for Vendetta almost surely didn’t make Warner Bros. (who owns the rights to the works) happy, but they seem to have allowed Vylenz’ film to be released nevertheless.

A bonus DVD includes lengthy inter­views with many of Moore’s col­lab­o­ra­tors, dis­cussing their own work as well as their col­lab­o­ra­tions with Moore. Moore’s wife Melinda Geb­bie, an Amer­i­can expat and illus­tra­tor of the porno­graphic novel Lost Girls, is more… well, nor­mal than I would have expected. She’s extremely intel­li­gent, with pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics, mak­ing her an obvi­ous part­ner for Moore, but to be hon­est, I expected more of a freak. Also, Dave Gib­bons does a wicked impres­sion of Moore.


Offi­cial movie site: www.shadowsnake.com/projects_completed_films.html

Maybe read: Frac­tal­mat­ter review

Maybe read: CHUD review

Must read: The Craft, by Daniel Whis­ton. An extended inter­view with Moore on the craft of writing.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World movie poster

 

In 2007, the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion invited leg­endary film­maker and doc­u­men­tar­ian Werner Her­zog to make a film about Antarc­tica. With only seven weeks to plan and shoot, and with an aus­tere crew of exactly two (Her­zog him­self and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Peter Zeitlinger), he pro­duced the stun­ningly beau­ti­ful film Encoun­ters at the End of the World.

Right away, Her­zog declares he is not a “tree-hugger” or “whale-hugger.” Instead, he won­ders why civ­i­liza­tion is more con­cerned about endan­gered species than it is about its own dis­ap­pear­ing lan­guages and cul­tures. He made it clear to his spon­sors that he had no inter­est in mak­ing “another pen­guin movie,” of course a back­handed ref­er­ence to the smash hit doc­u­men­tary March of the Pen­guins. For a brief period around 2005, it seemed every­one was obsessed with the pecu­liar life­cy­cle of pen­guins, find­ing in them metaphors for every­thing from the sanc­tity of mar­riage to evi­dence of homo­sex­u­al­ity in nature. But it turns out even Her­zog couldn’t resist the pathos inher­ent in the pen­guin lifestyle. He became fas­ci­nated by the reg­u­lar occur­rence of indi­vid­ual pen­guins becom­ing dis­ori­ented, and deter­minedly march­ing off alone to cer­tain star­va­tion and death. His cam­era catches one hap­pily scoot­ing off towards the moun­tains, away from the rel­a­tive safety of the ocean and his comrades.

Encounters at the End of the World Henry KaiserSome of the oth­er­worldly under­wa­ter footage by Henry Kaiser the inspired Her­zog to inves­ti­gate Antarctica

But Her­zog is mostly inter­ested more in the humans that migrate to Anar­c­tica. As is his cus­tom, he nar­rates the film him­self and openly won­ders whom he will find there. Some of the unusual char­ac­ters he encoun­ters are a philoso­pher oper­at­ing a fork­lift, a human­i­tar­ian dri­ving a bus (the continent’s sin­gle largest vehi­cle), a lin­guist tend­ing plants on a con­ti­nent with no lan­guages, and a jour­ney­man plumber descended from Aztec roy­alty. Most Herzog-ian of all is an East­ern Euro­pean man unable to speak of his trau­matic escape from “behind the iron cur­tain.” He keeps a large back­pack full of sur­vival gear, every­thing he would need should he have to leave at any moment. He puts it as being “in search of adven­ture,” but it seems he has left many places before he came to this one, so he is most likely doing more escap­ing than adven­tur­ing. He is not unlike Dieter Den­gler, the sub­ject of Herzog’s Lit­tle Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), who keeps a cache of food­stuffs in his home long after escap­ing a Laot­ian prison camp in 1966.

Werner Herzog & Peter Zeitlinger in Encounters at the End of the WorldWerner Her­zog & Peter Zeitlinger

Antarc­tica rep­re­sents “the end of adven­ture.” There are no more “white spaces on the map.” But most of the peo­ple Her­zog finds there are sci­en­tists, mak­ing it clear that there are many dis­cov­er­ies left to be made. Of inter­est to Her­zog is not only the research itself, but why it is being con­ducted in one of the most inhos­pitable places on earth. Zool­o­gists study nat­u­rally tame seals, espe­cially enjoy­ing their truly bizarre under­wa­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion that one likens to Pink Floyd. Geol­o­gists flock to Mount Ere­bus, one of the the earth’s only three sta­ble open vol­canos, whose “lava lake” is essen­tially the Earth’s exposed man­tle. The world’s only two other open vol­ca­noes are both located in polit­i­cally unsta­ble coun­tries, it being prefer­able for sci­en­tists to risk being pelted by explod­ing bombs of molten rock in sub­zero tem­per­a­tures than to be shot by bul­lets in hot­ter climes. In a sep­a­rate exper­i­ment, The Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii is attempt­ing to detect neu­tri­nos. These sub­atomic par­ti­cles are omnipresent in abun­dance, but are almost impos­si­ble to observe directly. The rea­son to come to Antarc­tica is to escape the dis­tort­ing back­ground radi­a­tion of civ­i­liza­tion, a metaphor if I’ve ever heard one.

Her­zog ded­i­cated Encoun­ters at the End of the World to critic and long­time advo­cate Roger Ebert. It was nom­i­nated for an Acad­emy Award for Best Doc­u­men­tary, his only nom­i­na­tion to date. How the Acad­emy could over­look the sub­lime and haunt­ing Griz­zly Man (2005) is beyond belief.


Offi­cial movie site: encountersfilm.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Lou Reed’s Berlin

lou_reeds_berlin.jpg

 

Lou Reed’s 1973 album Berlin is a con­cept album relat­ing the tale of a doomed woman named Car­o­line liv­ing in the epony­mous city. The term “con­cept album,” then and now, invokes imme­di­ate con­de­scen­sion from fans and crit­ics alike, call­ing to mind the pro­gres­sive rock excesses of 1970s mega­bands The Who (Tommy and Quadrophe­nia) and Yes (Tales from Topo­graphic Oceans). The poet and arty down­town Man­hat­tan­ite Reed might have bet­ter served him­self by refer­ring to Berlin as some­thing more fancy-sounding, per­haps a “song cycle.”

Reed’s pre­vi­ous album Trans­former was a great com­mer­cial suc­cess, debut­ing the endur­ing hits Satel­lite of Love, Per­fect Day, and Walk on the Wild Side. To fol­low it up with some­thing like Berlin may have been loaded with artis­tic integrity, but was ask­ing for trou­ble in terms of mak­ing a liv­ing. I recall read­ing that enough mate­r­ial was recorded for it to be a double-lp, but it was edited down to a sin­gle disc before release (I can’t find a source for this fac­toid online, but I believe it was related in the liner notes of his 1992 ret­ro­spec­tive boxed set Between Thought and Expres­sion). Pro­duced by Bob Ezrin (whose con­cept album cre­den­tials also include Pink Floyd’s The Wall), it was a com­mer­cial dis­as­ter at the time. So, cursed from the begin­ning, the full stu­dio ver­sion has appar­ently never been released.

lou_reed_berlin_1.jpg“Car­o­line says / While bit­ing her lip / Life is meant to be more than this”

In ret­ro­spect, Reed now seems to have been com­pelled to flee from com­mer­cial suc­cess, or at the very least was bound and deter­mined not to repeat him­self. Reed’s other infa­mous com­mer­cial dis­as­ter Metal Machine Music was another delib­er­ate provo­ca­tion: even the most open minded musi­col­o­gist might char­i­ta­bly char­ac­ter­ize it as ear­split­ting noise. But Berlin is dif­fer­ent, hated more for its tone and sub­ject mat­ter than its sound. Sev­eral of the songs are lovely, but wow is the com­plete work depress­ing, full of anger, venom, resent­ment, death, despair, and guilt. The song “The Kids” is espe­cially har­row­ing, end­ing with a tape of chil­dren wailing.

Over time, the album was even­tu­ally redis­cov­ered. One of those reap­prais­ing Berlin was no less than artist and film­maker Julian Schn­abel. So it came to be, that 33 years after its release, Schn­abel pro­posed to Reed that Berlin really ought to be a film. Schn­abel is obvi­ously attracted to artists ded­i­cated to their work with utter con­vic­tion: rev­o­lu­tion­ary New York Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the epony­mous biopic, the gay poet Reinaldo Are­nas in Castro-era Cuba in Before Night Falls, and the par­a­lyzed writer Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Div­ing Bell and the But­ter­fly (read The Dork Report review). Berlin’s DVD bonus fea­tures include a brief con­ver­sa­tion with Reed and Schn­abel on Elvis Costello’s show Spec­ta­cle, in which Schn­abel describes his attrac­tion to the cin­ema from the per­spec­tive of a painter: he rev­er­ently refers to the canvas-like movie screen as “The Rectangle.”

Some­thing that only peo­ple who’ve seem him live would know is that Reed is a great gui­tar player. He’s also vis­i­bly in sur­pris­ingly good shape for a for­mer junkie (sorry, but it’s true). Does he prac­tice yoga? Reed in per­for­mance is supremely cool and detached, but some star­tlingly real emo­tion comes through in his vocal deliv­ery; he spits out the lines “they took her chil­dren away” from the song “The Kids” with real venom.

lou_reed_berlin_2.jpgAntony dances the rock minuet

Orig­i­nal gui­tarist Steve Hunter rejoined Reed for the Berlin tour, and can barely con­tain his plea­sure, despite the grim sub­ject mat­ter. Bob Ezrin con­ducts with great enthu­si­asm, but oddly, he seems to be fac­ing the drum­mer, away from the choir and wood­winds. One of my favorite bassists, Fer­nando Saun­ders, doesn’t really get to shine, but per­haps it was my sound sys­tem that couldn’t do him jus­tice. Julian Schnabel’s daugh­ter Lola directed film clips pro­jected dur­ing the per­for­mance, star­ring Emmanuelle Seigner as Caroline.

So Reed finally got a chance to present Berlin live, as a whole. Now the once-denigrated work has become a world tour, a the­atri­cal fea­ture film, a live album, and a DVD. Reed is now con­sid­ered a New York deity, not the erratic heroin addict he was back in the day. His career is far from over and there’s plenty of time for more drama, but could this be his ulti­mate revenge?

The encore includes a spe­cial treat, a lovely ver­sion of Rock Min­uet sung by Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the John­sons) in his oth­er­worldly voice. Rock Min­uet was not from the orig­i­nal album, but a spe­cial request from Schn­abel, who rightly felt it belonged. But it’s fol­lowed by a bum­mer: a desul­tory per­for­mance of the Vel­vet Under­ground stan­dard Sweet Jane. It’s a let­down that after the emo­tion­ally intense pro­ceed­ings, that Reed seems truly bored here and just walks through a song he’s prob­a­bly played hun­dreds if not thou­sands of times.


Offi­cial movie site: www.berlinthefilm.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Sigur Rós: Heima

Sigur Ros Heima Movie Poster

 

Dean DeBlois’ doc­u­men­tary film Heima (mean­ing “com­ing home” or “at home”) fol­lows the band Sigur Rós on their sum­mer 2006 tour of their home coun­try Ice­land. The tour con­sisted of mostly free, unan­nounced con­certs, and with the band in three basic con­fig­u­ra­tions span­ning the con­tin­uüm of the purely acoustic to the fully elec­tric. The four core mem­bers Jón Þór “Jónsi” Bir­gis­son, Georg “Goggi” Hólm, Kjar­tan “Kjarri” Sveins­son, and Orri Páll Dýra­son per­form sev­eral acoustic songs just for the cam­era. The extended band (includ­ing string ensem­ble Ami­ina) is also seen per­form­ing out­doors, fully unplugged, at a con­cert protest­ing an envi­ron­men­tally destruc­tive dam to be built by the Ice­landic gov­ern­ment. Finally, in con­trast, we also see the full band in indoor con­certs with dra­matic light­ing and video effects.

Sigur Ros HeimaSigur Rós live in concert

Most Sigur Rós songs are sung in an invented lan­guage called Von­len­ska (“Hopelandic”), adding to the uni­ver­sal­ity and inter­na­tional appeal of their music. For the unini­ti­ated, Sigur Rós are a key rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the musi­cal genre “post-rock,” which gen­er­ally refers to highly evoca­tive, cin­e­matic, largely instru­men­tal music some­times com­pared to movie sound­track com­po­si­tion. Other notable bands work­ing in roughly the same idiom include Mog­wai, Explo­sions in the Sky, and Múm. In this Dork Reporter’s opin­ion, you can trace the genre’s her­itage back to the pro­gres­sive rock of Yes and King Crimson.

Sigur Ros HeimaSigur Rós live in concert

Inter­view clips and stun­ning land­scape images punc­tu­ate the film, mak­ing it almost as much about Ice­land itself as the band. The most incon­gru­ous clip is from the avant-garde band’s unlikely appear­ance on the Late Late Show with Craig Kil­born. They dis­cuss being unpre­pared for the busi­ness side of a career in music (lawyers, con­tracts, etc.), but under­stand that they have to think of the future.

The sec­ond disc of the two DVD set fea­tures full unin­ter­rupted per­for­mances, but with no two songs played in sequence, let alone a full con­cert. The frag­men­ta­tion of both the main doc­u­men­tary film and the sup­ple­men­tary fea­tures is mildly dis­ap­point­ing. How­ever, as reported in Pitch­fork, the band has plans for a full con­cert film directed by Vin­cent Morisset.


Offi­cial movie sites: www.heima.co.uk and www.heimafilm.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Grant Gee’s Joy Division

Joy Division movie poster

 

Grant Gee’s doc­u­men­tary Joy Divi­sion cov­ers the all-too-brief his­tory of the epony­mous post-punk band from Man­ches­ter. Joy Divi­sion was trag­i­cally short-lived, only com­plet­ing two albums before lead singer Ian Cur­tis’ sui­cide in 1980, but dis­pro­por­tion­ately influ­en­tial. Their sound is all over the early U2 albums Boy and Octo­ber, and the con­tem­po­rary band Inter­pol made a career of emu­lat­ing Joy Division’s sound.

Gee sets the scene of late 1970s Man­ches­ter as a grimy hell­hole in which “there’s noth­ing pretty.” The core mem­bers of the band are per­versely inspired by a Sex Pis­tols con­cert (their review: “shite, a car crash”) to form their own band. Pho­tog­ra­pher and film­maker Anton Cor­bijn took some of the most mem­o­rable por­traits of the band. Used to Holland’s health care sys­tem, he was shocked to see such poverty in Eng­land. He describes Joy Divi­sion as under­nour­ished and shiv­er­ing in their thin coats.

Joy Division by Anton Corbijn
Mal­nour­ished and shiv­er­ing in their thin coats: a famous por­trait of Joy Divi­sion by Anton Corbijn

Gee also inter­views Peter Sav­ille, the graphic designer that cre­ated the remark­ably stark album sleeves that were almost as influ­en­tial as the music itself. Tony Wil­son (a col­or­ful char­ac­ter who was the sub­ject of Michael Winterbottom’s fan­tas­tic biopic 24 Hour Party Peo­ple) was an early cham­pion, in between his duties as host of the TV show “So It Goes” and Fac­tory Records impre­sario. Cur­tis’ widow Deb­o­rah does not seem to have par­tic­i­pated, but her side of the story appears in the excel­lent biopic Con­trol (read The Dork Report review), co-produced by her and directed by Corbijn.

Cur­tis is described as a reg­u­lar lad who fre­quently bought flow­ers for his wife. In other words, the oppo­site of punk. But he’s also char­ac­ter­ized as “bipo­lar,” moody and unpre­dictable even before his epilepsy man­i­fested itself in fre­quent, dra­matic grand mal seizures. His sin­gu­lar stage pres­ence was marked by a pecu­liar form of dance inspired by his seizures (that he some­times actu­ally did expe­ri­ence on stage). The nec­es­sary drug treat­ments caused huge mood swings, fur­ther com­pro­mis­ing his already unsteady men­tal health. Cur­tis con­tin­ued his day job assist­ing dis­abled peo­ple for the Civil Ser­vice even as the band was tak­ing off. In a heart­break­ing bit of syn­chronic­ity, his clas­sic song “She’s Lost Con­trol” is about an epilep­tic girl he met though his work.

Ian Cur­tis of Joy Division

Grant Gee’s clear exper­tise is musi­cal doc­u­men­tary. His 1998 film Meet­ing Peo­ple is Easy famously cap­tures Radio­head break­ing through to mass pop­u­lar­ity as their 1998 album OK Com­puter is almost uni­ver­sally declared the album of the year. The frank film shows emo­tion­ally frag­ile Thom Yorke almost phys­i­cally recoil­ing from fame, but receiv­ing wise coun­sel from men­tor Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Gee also co-directed the excel­lent 2005 Goril­laz con­cert film Demon Days Live at the Man­ches­ter Opera House, bet­ter even than the stu­dio album that pre­ceded it. Both films have per­ma­nent spots in The Dork Report’s DVD shelf.


Offi­cial movie site: JoyDivisionMovie.co.uk

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report: