Sunday, January 12, 2014

#12 Low In Europe (2004)

I must admit I don't listen to Low as much as I used to. Taste changes and so do bands. But I still count the band's 1999 album "Secret Name" among my all time favourites. For an independent American rock band they have been fairly successful with their trademark slower-than-slow music rich with chiming guitars, hushed drumming and beautiful vocal harmonies.

A handful of years after "Secret Name" director Sebastian Schrade followed the band on tour for their shows in Germany and the UK. The result was a nice little 50 minute film.

It's a film from around when filmmaking was beginning to enjoy the same democratization of the medium as music had. Decent technology becoming available to the masses. In the last 5 to 10 years more and more independent documentaries have come out. Many with focus on music. Of course the sheer mass of material explodes and the quality varies.

"Low In Europe" is released through Plexifilm which has an impressive catalogue of fantastic documentaries. This film, though, doesn't feel quite up to scratch with the rest at Plexi. Maybe it has an easier time because it was the first film about Low (not counting the video material on their box set dvd from 2004). It feels like a "fan made" film. It mixes interview bits from hotel rooms, radio PR and backstage rooms with footage from the tour bus and from the shows. Not much else.

Visually the film is not so imaginative and soundwise it doesn't impress either. This in the concert footage where the sounds levels are a bit off. Sometimes the bass is inaudible, but vocals loud. Considering the few instruments played it should have been doable. But capturing things on the fly on tour can be hard. Needs lots of planning.

On the plus side - besides the good music - the band seems willing to give the film makers access, which is crucial. The interviews are pretty basic (about songwriting, sound, touring, politics etc.), but since this was the first film on the band that's excusable. The film makers could probably have benefitted from gathering more material, but there probably wasn't time on tour. It feels a bit rushed.

Still, for a 50 minute introduction to the band it's a good film. It might not be super exciting for people not familiar with the band, but for fans it will definitely be enjoyable. I liked it. There is some nice footage from the beautiful Union Chapel venue in London at the end of the film.

In retrospect the film has been devalued a bit by the fact another Low film called "You May Need A Murderer" was made later. It has a more professional feel to it and the film makers probably had more time and access for the job. I'll write about that one another time.

The dvd also includes bonus material in the form of radio show live recordings with an interview set to tour footage.

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