Thursday, June 21, 2012

#5 Telstar: The Joe Meek Story (2008)

Imagine this: Denmark. Small country. Small market. Subcultures are tiny when you only have five and a half million people to take a slice from. Would it make sense for any businessman to sell anything that's not going to cater to the majority? Result: Pretty much all we get around here is of the mainstream variety. Hence a lot of fine films never make it to Denmark. It's either Hollywood for all or 'arty farty' social realism for the few. British biopics seem to fall somewhere between those two chairs. It must have been the case with "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story". Sadly. Maybe it was overlooked everywhere outside the UK?

Joe Meek is not a household name, but if you're over 30 years old his biggest hit "Telstar" should ring a bell. In fact in 1962 it was the first number one hit in the USA by a British band. Joe Meek himself is an interesting subject to say the least. He was a true original and innovator as an independent record producer - besides him being tone deaf. Add to that: Obsessed with the occult, gay (in 1962, mind you) and allegedly suffering from depression, schizophrenia and a galloping paranoia. All the ingredients for an interesting story. One that follows his triumphs and ultimate tragedy. And then there's the string of amazing 60's hits that he produced with various bands.

I can imagine that some critics would have given it a hard time at its release, but I've found my own way to enjoy it. Does it work as a film? Yes and no. "Telstar" is based on a stage musical and it shows. And this is how you should see this film. The plot feels like something that just strings all the musical scenes together - not much more. And that's okay. Meek's legacy is his music. Con O'Neill who played Joe Meek in the stage musical also portrays him in the film and does a truly amazing job. We also see Kevin Spacey in a small, but hilarious and underplayed role as the moustached - and very British - major Wilfred Banks, the investor in Meek's hits.

Despite the fact that the story itself is a tragedy the music overpowers it and we have a fun, entertaining and beautiful piece of music history on film to help new generations discover Joe Meek. It does not pretend to be more than that and that's fine with me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#4 Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy (1998)

Radiohead. Love 'em or hate 'em. The inevitable backlash is already on and ardent fans act the defenders. Always happens. I've been a fan for many years, but have in recent years had the experience that their newest albums made the previous ones sound better than I originally thought they were. In short, a downward trajectory, as the band crawls into their own shell. But I still love this film.

"Meeting People Is Easy" catches the band at the height of their powers. Back when I also was blown away by the magnificent "OK Computer". It's a somewhat fragmented film, but intentionally so.

It shows the less glorious side of the rock'n'roll fame game. Endless traveling, endless waiting around, endless lines of interviewers with stupid questions. Endless backslapping, awards and jetlagged existence. And you never get to see all the amazing cities you visit, because you have to do press and soundcheck. Luckily the film captures Tokyo, Barcelona, Berlin etc. beautifully and sets it to, yes, the music - which is actually also in the film.

In the hands of director Grant Gee it makes for a unique film experience very much of its time. Just as "OK Computer" was and which sparked all the madness. Kudos must go in spades to Grant Gee for deflating the easy rock'n'roll lifestyle myth - or at least inflating an entirely new mythology. It's almost like you can physically feel the madness when you watch the film. This is a film that should make a lot of dreamers reconsider becoming rockstars.

Even if you might find Radiohead annoying and whiny (Come on, you're famous. Be happy!) the film can be experienced and enjoyed on different levels. Be it, the music, the visuals, the music biz, the media madness or the snapshot of modern society on Planet Earth at the end of the millenium - the overpowering weight of 'fin de siècle'.

This is one of the four music documentaries that I have now blogged about in which I found inspiration for doing my own film - besides also digging into the works of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders.

There does not seem to be a trailer for this film, but it's online in it's full length in various places. I doubt it's entirely legal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

#3 Patti Smith: Dream of Life (2008)

"How does it feel to be a rock icon? When they say that, I always think of Mount Rushmore."
She might be 65 and have the reputation of being a dead serious rock poet, but as this film shows she also has humour.

How would one make a film about a musician that - besides being the right place at the right time with the right people - has rightly chiseled herself a spot in the mythology of the golden age of rock? We all know that even rock icons are human beings. But with all fuzz that surrounds them it's easy to forget. Even for themselves. It seems that - even though the life of rock stars will always feel somewhat staged - Patti Smith has kept both her feet on the ground.

Steven Sebring's 2008 documentary probably doesn't dispel many myths about Patti Smith. Maybe because she already actually is down to earth. We both get to see the rock'n'roll circus, but also meet her parents and kids. We see Patti as a fan of other artists as well as a strong believer in not forgetting those who passed away. We get a taste of a bit of humdrum daily life. But it's not like ours. At the end of the day rockstars like Patti Smith still represent a sense of freedom most people long for. Which is why we are so fascinated by them.

The film makes me think about... what makes a rock star? Talent, charisma, luck, determination, being a free spirit? It's probably all that and more with Patti Smith.

"Dream of Life" could be a mess of different styles and moments filmed over 11 years, but it's somehow neatly tied together by Patti herself doing the voice-over on the film. We get great looking black'n'white footage from Japan and around the world - as well as 'home video' with the family.

This was another one of the films I saw when preparing for my own music documentary. Maybe subconsciously Patti's voice-over gave me the idea that I didn't want any on-screen interviews in my film and therefore I only recorded the audio of them. Maybe. It worked fine.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

#2 Touch The Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie (2004)

Evelyn Glennie is a percussionist. And Evelyn Glennie is deaf. Almost. Nevertheless a highly talented and respected musician. Her inability to hear as well as the rest of us does not matter the slightest. Except it makes for a very interesting documentary.

The film tells the story of her life since she was a kid - when she lost all but most of her hearing at age 11. We hear her reflections on how she experiences sound and various other things. All along the way we see her perform on different pieces of percussion in various unique places (not just concert halls). One such place is a big old factory building where she collaborates with experimental guitar player Fred Frith. One can snicker a bit at the gong sounds and incense sticks, but the film really invites you in to experience the music in every little detail.

Director Thomas Riedelsheimer takes his time to also let the viewer experience sound the way Evelyn does and tries to make us aware of the sounds that are all around us. And he does so to great effect. Also because a lot of the sequences are simply beautifully shot. Not only in the factory building, but also when Evelyn is walking through an airport.

This film was one of a handful that I felt inspired me a lot in different ways when I started doing my own first music documentary. From this film in particular the airport scene. I guess it would be a good way to start this new blog by writing about those films.

/ Lars

Film website - IMDB - Wiki - Amazon - Play - Hulu (full movie for US viewers)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

#1 Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2003)

When I have to come up with a music film that has excited me I most often think of "Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus" as one of the first. I think it's because it's the odd one out. It's not the usual chronological rockband coming of age story. Neither following a band during recordings. Or a concert performance. It's one part documentary, one part almost-musical and feels a bit like one part fiction, because each part is very staged in a unique way. It's about a place in the world and the frame of mind there, but music saturates every frame of this film.

The film's origin is an album by American musician Jim White. He's also our guide in the movie where he takes us through the deep, deep south of the US. Here you meet old banjo playing miners, no-questions-asked and entranced God-fearing Christians, roadside junkyards, high-boozin' jukejoints, serene swamps and southern musicians - some of which you might know.

Several of them appear in the movie. Besides Jim White you'll meet The Handsome Family, David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower and Woven Hand), David Johansen, Johnny Dowd, Rev. Gary Howlington, The Singing Hall Sisters, Melissa Swingle and Lee Sexton. It also features the author Harry Crews in a great interview where he walks beside a car while talking about the stories of the south.

When I took my first steps to doing my own first music documentary in 2010 this film was an immense inspiration (together with a few others). It set the bar. In a sense it dared to let the music inspire the film to be 'poetic' in its form.

The film was directed and beautifully photographed by Andrew Douglas. A real treat that I can't recommend enough.

/ Lars

Film website - IMDB - Wiki - Amazon - Play

Welcome to It Looks Like Sound To Me

Welcome to It Looks Like Sound To Me - a new blog that focuses entirely on films about music. Be it documentaries, fiction or biographical films.

I've realized that I have a growing interest in this 'genre'. Or atleast how music gets life on the screen in whatever form. Also partly because I've recently completed a small music documentary on my own.

In my search for films with focus on music Iobviously come across a lot of the already famous films that are out there. But also the lesser known ones. So the goal of this blog is both to spread the word on the smaller films (of which there seem to be more and more coming out) and serve as inspiration. But also from time to time I will reacquaint myself with a classic and suggest a bit of rediscovery.

In this blog you'll find a few thoughts on each film (maybe even a review, if you will), some background info and hopefully also a trailer (or maybe even the whole film if it's online legally in it's entirety) - plus a few helpful links for more info, where to get dvd etc.

I already have a long list of films I long to write about. So some film you know will probably show up here soon. But of course I'm always open to suggestions, so you're welcome to comment the blog posts or send an e-mail to lsd _ dk (at) hotmail (dot) com (remove spaces and replace the words in paranthesis).

For more info on me feel free to check out my website

I hope you enjoy reading this blog!