Now I know what to illegally download the next free time I get.
I doubt my positive feelings towards “Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields,” knowing that this is just the novelty of knowing someone so clever and so short. What I like about this movie is that it shows you the annoying side of the subject yet those things make you like the man. A linear presentation of the life of the indie musician, it doesn’t shy away from his lower moments. Like his unfriendliness towards music journalists – although I wanted to see more of that. And that time when the blogs accused him of being racist and thus called him ‘cracker,’ which isn’t a racist term at all. The movie also shows him going to gay bars and writing his non-house music. Doesn’t work for me at all.
Another positive element of the movie is Claudia Gonson, Merritt’s long time friend, collaborator, band mate and fruit fly. I’ve known too many girls like her – not the prettiest nor skinniest, alternative, very intelligent and very confident, that voice I’ve heard too many times, that youthful exuberance even at 40. But she never gets boring. The scenes with her involve their songwriting, revels on their use of words like ‘chord progression,’ and it shows how they’re all about the method and not the madness.
The movie is not about an icon but a refreshing portrayal of an evolving artist. It’s a good, thinking man’s laugh, and I hope it comes out in the theatres again.
Is it just me, or does Anton Corbijn take a little credit for the celebrity of the musicians he took pictures of. He even preferred that the Moonmen of the MTV awards go to the directors instead of the musicians. Well, I guess he could be right about that.
“Shadow Play” does give you new insight on Corbijn’s aesthetic. He’s stereotypically a dark photographer who took pictures of gothy artists like Joy Division and Depeche Mode. What the documentary shows is how Rembrandt influenced him. There’s two or three sentences dedicated to how his father only took him to those art shows. But everything makes sense after hearing about that streak in him. The iconography, the tenebrism. EVERYTHING. I wonder if he gets blurrier as he gets older.
It also shows his humourous side. I didn’t know he directed “Heart Shaped Box.” I didn’t realize how funny and surrealist those images were, and the documentary makes it look exactly that instead of the hallowed interpretation the original video had. I didn’t know I could respect Cobain again. I didn’t know Corbijn did colour.
The movie also documents him shooting his first feature, “Control.” Seeing the making-of of that film takes away the varnish that black and white films normally present. Although Sam Riley gives the performance of his life, I do prefer Ian Curtis as a character in”24 Hour Party People” better.
Corbijn looks a bit like Mario Testino. Both tackle celebrities although the former’s gloom is nothing like the latter’s luxury.
And I didn’t catch on with the daddy issues.
And despite me apprehensions I can’t wait for “The American.”
Because of financial mismanagement and boozing, I didn’t get to see anything from HotDocs until last Thursday. “We Don’t Care About Music Anyway” was my first taste of the late night screenings. The documentary portrays a few collaborative artists in the Japanese noise rock music scene. So these people make music that our grandparents think all teenagers listen to.
The first scene is that of a trash dump, rivaling apocalyptic Cormac-esque imagery. Then we see a quasi-classical musician in an abandoned school doing things to a cello that would make Yo-Yo Ma cringe. Then we have a round table of these musicians talking about the economy their weird performances, their weird performance habits, their understanding of music.
The cinematography is effectively garish, watching darkness and trash and sweat evaporating off a man’s body. Then we see a bright white sky above heaps of garbage.
The movie comes off as an interpretation of Tokyo arts and culture, and as one of the musicians featured would say, the lack thereof. It shows Tokyo as a noisy city, and the music, if you can call it that, is a commentary on urban overstimulation and anomie. It’s like watching Dadaists if they had amplifiers and guitars.
Is it a documentary? I don’t know. It doesn’t flow or narrate like one. But one of the functions of the genre is exposing the audience to people and cliques and situations that exist, and the movie accomplished that. It’s just a confused reception to something so new. I imagine to have had the same reaction to the Sex Pistols had I lived in the 1970’s.