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documentary

Lemmy * Greg Olliver & Wes Orshoski (2010)

Again a music documentary, this time showing the 40 years carreer of the ace of spades: Lemmy Kilmister. Lemmy is of course the singer of Motörhead, before he started the band he witnessed the birth of rock music when going to the The Beattles. Later he roled into the early punk scene and played in the spacerock band Hawkwind. The first part of the documentary is mostly biographical. A whole range of famous (pop)rock musicians are interviewed, such as Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, members of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Henry Rollins and many more. Of course Lemmy talks a lot and we see parts of his private and professional life. Lemmy is the embodiment of rock’n’roll. He was there when it started and he sticked to his dirty sound and looks. Even at the age of 63 he tours more than half the years and he still enjoys it immensely. Fortunately the second half the focus shifts more to the music. Life shows, touring with Metallica, rehearsals, finally the directors let the music do the talking. Also finally this is not a documentary about a tragic musician going down under the pressure of succes and the heavy use of alcohol and drugs. Lemmy’s only drink seems to be “Jack’n’coke” (and lots of it) and frequently the use of speed is mentioned, but even after 40 years, nothing has gone out of control. Lemmy is followed in the prime of his life, 63 years of age, 40 years of rock’n’roll and with no intention to quit. A great documentary!
What is more, I never look at all these extras on DVDs, but I enjoyed the extra disc to “Lemmy”. A live show, the great Metallica 50 years birthday show, but mostly We are the roadcrew.

Kill Your Idols * Scott Crary (2004)

In weekends I often listen to music with Last.fm. Contrary to when I play music from cds, I then often enjoy listening to these pretentious, noisy (electro)punk bands such as PRE, Arab On Radar or Les Georges Leningrad, bands that are obviously influenced by the New York artpunk scene. “Kill Your Idols” is a documentary about that very NY scene. Somehow there were different groups of people making ‘anti-music’ and living in NY. These “freaks” wanted to express their feelings about society and break with the laws of music. No melodies, no standard band-lineup, just raw energy and a lot of noise and screaming. The documentary contains images of the very beginning, 1971, that alternate the interviews that tell the story. Those interviews are mostly with Suicide (the original electronic punk band), Lydia Lunch (then of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), the Theoretical Girls, Swans and (very shortly) Foetus. As second generation band we get Sonic Youth and the third generation bands in the form of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gogol Bardello and Flux Information Sciences. Well, they are all on the poster. The original artpunk scene somehow exploded when bands found out about eachother. Soon many new people came to NY particularly for that scene, many of which were originally art-students, hence the term “art-punk”. The short (and tiny) hype lasted for only 18 months, a larger audience was there for the second generation. The original band-members keep stressing how anarchistic they were and how genuine and spontaneous it all was and how secondary the younger bands are. They on their turn claim that they do not look at the past. Fact is that the bands that are presented all come from NY, or actually Brooklyn, none of them really sound alike (but they do their utmost not to), save for the fact that they are noisy, atonal and weird. “Kill Your Idols” is really a documentary. There are only snippets of music. It is nice to see this old video material and the extras are tracks of the younger bands, but rather than the musicians, I would have preferred to have had the music itself do the talking. All in all a nice documentary about 30 years of art-related punk music.

Dig! * Ondi Timoner (2004)

This is a joined documentary about the upcoming poprock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. I am not too informed about popmusic, nor of the “indie” kind, but the name of The Dandy Warhols sounds familiar, but the other does not ring a bell. This is exactly the background of this documentary. There were two “visionary” musicians, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor, who became friends and, especially over the years, rivals. Newcombe founded the ‘band’ The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Taylor The Dandy Warhols. Both had similar ideas about the world and about the art of music, but where Taylor is more of a group-player and more serious about his aim to create a (musical) revolution, Newcombe is a megalomanic egocentric person who is impossible to work with. Even though initiately it seemed the Brian’s star who rose rapidly, Newcombe saw to it that they did not become a very successfull band. Somewhat later the Warhols came to fame, especially when some telecom company used a song of theirs in a commercial. Timoner had followed both bands for 7 years making 1500 hours of footage. This is turned into an enjoyable 100 minute documentary. The focus shifts from one band to another making it hard to follow sometimes. The documentary is narrated by Taylor, thus creating some sort of ode to the band they owe their success to. “Dig!” consists of interviews with the band members, labels, managers, etc. and of course a lot of footage from tours, privat affairs and shows. The only thing that I regret is that the focus does not lay so much on the music, but on the characters. There could (should) have been a lot more music in “Dig!”. For the rest, an enjoyable peek into the world of popmusic.

The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia * Julien Nitzberg (2009)

I do not know if this is a coincidence, but this documentary is about the family of Jesco White about whom in the same year the magnificent film “White Lightnin’” was made. That film is relatively successfull (I think) and since the documentary was produced by Johhny Knoxville and some other “Jackass”s, I figured that it would be hyped at least a bit more. In fact, I had to get this documentary from abroad because I was unable to find it in my country. In the Netherlands we had this film “Flodder” (from Dick Maas) about a lowlife family living in an expensive villa-residential (1986) and more recently some tv-series (that I never saw) about a familie called “Tokkie”. Since then a(nti)-social people and families are called “Tokkies”. Well, the Whites seem to be the American counterparts. In a hip documentary we follow a year in the lives of the wild and wonderfull life of the West-Virginia White family. Interviews with law-and-order officials from the area where the larger part of the Whites live, but of course most is about the family members themselves. The documentary opens with short introductions to most of the Whites with a family tree to see the relations to eachother. All Whites, whether young or old, look (and sound!) awfull. The suggestion immediately rises that this is due to their excessive life with drink, drugs and violence and as the film continues, this will prove to be very true. What we are presented with is completely asocial behavior. A family with no working members, but with plenty of cash, subtely explained how profit is made with selling all kinds of pills. Members talk openly about their murders and other violent outbreaks, of of them is in jail for shooting his mother’s boyfriend. The result is grimly humorous. Funny, when they are not actually your neighbours. Jesco is the most famous White with his tapdancing, the tragedy of which is explained by his musicians. Jesco seems to not be the only dancer of the family though. Drama unfolds with the mother of the family dying at the age of 84 and the birth of a baby that is taken from the mother by the authorities. The documentary is well-made, because inspite of obviously portraying the low-of-the-low (like with a heavy drinking/drugs scene before one member goes to rehab), during the course of the film, the Whites really become ’empatisable’. Add to this a lot of music and the documentary gets an eerie, good atmosphere. Grins, chuckles and laughs in abundance, drama and surprise, “The Wild And Wonderfull Whites Of West-Virginia” is a wild and wonderfull documentary about a colourfull family.

Exit Through The Gift Shop * Banksy (2010)

“Exit Through The Gift Shop” is a documentary about a maker of a documentary that he never wanted to make. Thierry Guetta is a person obsessed with filming and through a cousin of his, he stumbles upon the underground world of street art. Street art is mere graffiti taken a step further. Using different techniques streets artist go way beyond merely spraying tags or images against walls. With silkscreen, paint, posters and later anything that came to their minds, street artists started to enlighten the streets with critical and sometimes thought-provoking images. Since polluting public space is of course not legal (no matter it is just rubbish or regarded as art by some), the emerging street art scene is an underground movement. Guetta got some of the most famous artists to allow him to film them while they were working. He keeps saying that he wants to make a documentary about street art, but he never really wanted anything more than just recording what he saw. When eventually the most famous and most elusive street artist Banksy more or less forces Guetta to become a street artist himself, hyping himself in LA as Mr. Brainwash, Banksy took up the task of going through the thousands and thousands of tapes and create the documentary himself. Some people think that the whole Guetta story is a hoax set up by Banksy. “Exit Through The Gift Shop” starts as an interesting view into “the biggest subversive subculture since punk”, but later shifts towards the exploitation of street art in the normal art scene and Guetta creating his own hype. It is thus a critical documentary which is a nice watch.

Brothers Of The Head * Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe (2005)

A pair of Siamese twins who have been protectively kept in a nomansland called “The Head” by their father, are “plucked out of obscurity” by a music promoter. Zak takes the twins to another protective environment where he tries to turn the twins into a punk freakshow. The plan succeeds and as “The Bang Bang” the twins and their band start to tour the UK. Not unsurprisingly the story rolls into one of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll towards an inevitable end of two adolescents sharing their digesting system and liver.
“Brothers Of The Head” is a (fake) documentary with interviews and flashbacks and makes a very nice film about a twins that develop different personalities, problems with relationships and a lot of music.

Tarnation * Jonathan Caouette (2003)

In the local Mediamarkt I ran into a box with “Aaltra“, “Calvaire” and “Tarnation”. Three cult-films for 6 euros! “Calvaire” is great, “Aaltra” very amusing and “Tarnation” is a strange experiment of a young director. His first full-length is an extremely personal autobiography (though told in the “he” form) about his troubled youth. Caouette’s mother (to whom this film is an ode) was mentally wrecked by an accident and many shock-therapies after that. She was in and out mental hospitals for the rest of her life. Caouette spent time in many foster families, was abused and in the end put under the care of his grandparents who were even crazier than his mother. As an outlet Caouette started to run around with filmcameras from an early age. His epileptic montage suggests that he used much of that old material in his documentary. Experimentating to the extremes of filmographic possibilities, the film goes well together with “Calvaire” (the last part) or perhaps even comparisons with Gaspar Noë are not completely strange. The film is definately interesting and weird. Some of the biographic parts take a bit too long, but overall this film is definately worth watching.

Häxan * Benjamin Christensen (1922)

Funny, this DVD release is reviewed in the Heidnisches Jahrbuch 2010 and a few weeks later a friend got it for my birthday. It is a silent documentary from 1922 Sweden with nice classical music to cheer things up. It seems to have been a series, at least, there are ‘to be continued’s. The first chapter is text and some images, from the second part on there are scenes played by actors. The camera-work, especially the brownish colours are great and Christensen managed to bring great contrasts in his visuals. Unfortunately somewhere around 3/4 my player started to protest, first it hung and continued and eventually it just crashed, so I have not been able to see the whole of “Häxan”. Also there is a 1968 version on the disc as well (the “witchcraft through the ages” of the new DVD cover I guess), I suppose this is one of the narrated versions that you sometimes hear about. Unfortunately I could not play that part of the DVD at all… This is all too bad, because the disc is not easy to get. Hopefully my player will calm down so I can have another try or perhaps I can try to use another player… What I saw was very amusing for sure.

L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot * Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea (2010)

Henri-Georges Clouzot was a top director in the 1970’ies. His successfull film gave him unlimited financial means for a project he called “l’Enfer” or “Inferno”. These means he did not use for grand trips, massive stages or tons of figurants, but for filmographic experimentations. Clouzot wanted to make a film about a man who thinks that his wife (Romy Schneider) cheats on him, having weird visions and eventually going berzerk. The film was never finished due to several reasons (the main player stepping out of the project, but mostly Clouzot’s heart-attack) and recently a great many (but not all) of the reels have been discovered. The two directors of this documentary tried to rebuild the film and the filming of it with that footage, interviews and old and recent images. Clouzot had his crew create reel after reel with the strangest experiments with colours, lenses, costumes and sound. The idea was that real-life would be short in black and white, but Marcel’s visions in insane colours and disturbed images and sounds. The result could have been interesting, but like I said, the project was never finished. This documentary gives footage from the experimental tapes that would never have been used anyway and relatively large parts of what was to be the film. Interesting.

Chaostage * Tarek Ehlail (2009)

The original title seems like a wordplay, but it is actually a German word meaning “chaos days”. The international title is “Warriors Of Chaos”. “Chaostage” is Ehlail’s debut. A name like Tarek Ehlail does not immediately sound like someone who would make a documentary (or mockumentary?) about the early German punkmovement. But he did! The film is constructed of interviews with overaged punkers who were present in the early days, old footage of the events and newly filmed material to serve as a film (being flashbacks). The entire film I had the idea that is was all made up. None of the “legendary” bandnames rang bells and the music sounded more like the modern “punkrock” than the early punk of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Looking around the world wide web, the “Chaostage” are really a known phenomenon (see here for German and here for a shorter English Wikipedia article), a band like Toxoplasma really existed and reading about these “Chaostage” brings flashes of the film. So contrary to what I thought just after seeing the film, it may actually be based on real events. On to the film then. “Chaostage” is a film with a punk attitude. There is little structure or conformity. It jumps from interviews to animations, to old film footage to newly filmed material to make some sort of story. The punks are displayed as mindless and violent youth with as only interests drinking, destruction, sex and music. We peek into the life of punks that remained punks, how they look back on their past and we also get a little insight in the counter movement which had similar music, but very different ideas (at some points; drinking, destruction and music are also their focus): the skinheads. The film is quite violent at times, it praises the violence of the old days and the mindless ‘dancing’ is displayed with rapid montage. There is weird sex and other hobbies of the main characters (in the past and present), a lot of vomit and a lot of punk (and some oi) music. A very enjoyable film indeed, but not giving much esteem for the punk movement.