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Blitzed! – Ashley & Donald (2020)

London 1980’ies. Some Bowie fans want a place where they can express themselves and they find a club for Tuesday evening dance nights. “The Blitz” soon becomes a little scene, a bit of a queer and proto-gothic club.

Even though the documentary presents The Blitz as if was the primal soup of gender fluidity and the 1980’ies sound of music, similar things were -of course- happening in other places as well, also in the UK.

The Blitz was more the birthplace for the wave of pop music with Visage, Boy George and Spandau Ballet, while other similar scenes stayed more underground.

The documentary consists of interviews and old footage and makes it clear that a lot of things that we see today, were already there a few centuries ago. Also obvious is the enduring (and still present) of David Bowie and punk music. The Blitz started to lean towards more electronic music such as Kraftwerk.

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song – Geller & Goldfine (2021)

This documentary is mostly about a song, but of course it had to also be a documentary about Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) who wrote it.

Cohen was a Canadian Jew who was fond of his heritage. He was a poet who, by the time he was 30, also started to put his poems to music. Soon discovered, his star rose rapidly. Yet he remained -as he said himself- in the margins of popular music.

As a musician Cohan was of course a singer/songwriter with slow, often minimalist and melancholic music. Most characteristic are the lyrics, and Cohen’s deep, warm voice. The documentary has video images of Cohen’s entire career as if he had a cameraman in his surroundings for the entire time. We get a peek into his private life, there are old interviews, people in his surroundings were interviewed as well.

And so we get to the famous song “Hallelujah” with which Cohen had struggled for seven years. By the time he was quite the name in the music business. He had released his material on the big, American label Columbia. “Hallelujah” was part of an album that Columbia thought was not good enough to release though. The song initially did not made it to the big audience, but Cohen did play it at live shows. The song was very religious / spiritual, but since he had so many different verses and kept coming up with new ones, at shows Cohen would sing a much more ‘secular’ version, sometimes even ‘naughty’.

Then John Cale sang the song. He made a mix between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘naughty’ lyrics. His version became better known than that of Cohen. Again later Jeff Buckley made the fame of the song rise to the stars. Especially his untimely death seems to have helped making it a cult-song. When it was used in the popular movie “Shrek”, the whole world appeared to be in love with the song. Cohen himself went in retreat in a Zen monastery and was off grid for several years. After that he made his comeback, he did shows world wide in spite of his rising age. “Halleluja” was a permanent part of his repertoire.

Besides the story of Cohen, you get the story of the song. Several sing/songwriters have been interviewed. Which version did they first hear? When and how did they adopt the song, etc. It has been covered countless times in many different forms ever since.

Geller & Goldfine made a nice documentary in which you get to know Cohen and learn how his song made an impact on the world.

Moonage Daydream – Brett Morgen (2022)

Late 2015, early 2016 there was a David Bowie exhibition in Groningen. My girlfriend was curious so we got tickets. Before we got to the date we made a reservation for, Bowie passed away (on 10 January 2016). You can imagine that it was impossible to get tickets for the exhibition after.

I do not remember all that much of the exhibition. I mostly remember images of shows, but Bowie was much more than just a musician. He painted, made experimental movies, played in plays and movies and what not. “Moonage Daydream” is a quite kaleidoscopic affair. It is unclear to me what elements were made by Bowie himself, but the images are experimental, weird and sometimes dark as well.

Focusing mostly on the 1970’ies and 80’ies we see a man compulsively trying things new. He purposely moved around the globe (from the UK, to the USA, to West Berlin) to see if that would affect his personality and thus his art. Also we see Bowie playing with sexuality and gender. When he you think how big an artist Bowie was and how many living rooms he entered with his androgynous and transgender look, it is extra weird that such things still are ‘issues’ today.

But, music, film, we see him painting, there is a lot of old footage, snippets from interviews, etc. Do not expect an informative and chronological summery of Bowie’s life. Some questions are left open and I -for one- waited in vein for the moment that Bowie appeared in Twin Peaks. He seems to have quite a few things in common with David Lynch, so it is not strange that the two knew each other.

Not your everyday artist, at least, not for the whole for his career. Still very successful. Neither did he -like many others- crush below the weight of success. Perhaps he so strongly wanted to keep developing that success or not were of no matter.

A beautiful and colorful documentary about one of the more interesting pop artist of recent times.

Rocketman – Dexter Fletcher (2019)

Elton John (1947-) walks into an AA meeting in an angel/devil suit and starts telling is biography. Reginald Kenneth Dwight is portrayed as an insecure, somewhat awkward kid with unsupportive parents. Also he proves to be a musical prodigy being able to play on a piano whatever he hears.

His father was a lover of jazz, but Reginalds musical interests spread out further. As soon as he has had some piano lessons he starts playing in soul groups, but he also picks up a taste for rock’n’roll.

As his artistic star rises, Dwight starts to develop further insecurities because of his sexual orientation, in spite of often being in surroundings that have no problems with homosexuality. The more famous Elton John becomes and the more insecure he becomes, the more flamboyant his appearance becomes and so grows the Elton John as we know him.

The film is a drama with -of course- quite some music. Also there are musical scenes. I am obviously not too familiar with Johns music as I did not know much of the music from the film.

The film is very personal and up close, especially for an artist that is still among the living. Only in the closing titles did I see that Elton John himself produced the film. Apparently he wanted to get his own version of his live out before it is too late. One of the tag lines for the film is “based on a true fantasy”, so it surely must be Johns own version.

The film is an alright watch. It provides a nice peek into the colourful world of especially 1970’ies music business.

Paradox – Daryl Hannah (2018)

I do not remember how I found this film on Reddit, but the presence of Neil Young had me intrigued, in spite the 3.9 rating on IMDb. I figured it would perhaps not be for the ‘general audience’.

Well, it is not! “Paradox” starts as a slow, minimalist and somewhat strange film without much of a story. It is more an ‘image-scape’. A group of men are in some remote and rough part of (I think) Southern America. Modern day cowboys, but then looking for treasury. Digging in some hill they find key-boards and mobile phones, I think they are supposed to be from the past.

In this desolate landscape the men have odd conversations. There is a mysterious man with a black hat, played by Neil Young. At some point the men set out on a journey and arrive at a group of tents. There is seems that the men form a band around Neil Young and the film turns into live-performance.

After this, we go back to the minimalist and storyless film which includes a weird scene with a bus of women.

Indeed, not your average film. Much effort has been put into the visuals. There are hour-long shots compressed into seconds, close ups of plants and animals, great shots of nature. The film parts are amusing, the music parts beautiful.

A last surprise: the director is the famous actress Daryl Hannah.

My rating is way higher than on IMDb (or the same, but on a scale of 5 instead of one of 10). I am glad that Netflix also offers more experimental material and not just blockbusters. I hope I will find more such treasures.

Leto – Kirill Serebrennikov (2018)

It has been a while since I saw a music movie. “Leto” (meaning “summer”) plays in 1980’ies Russia. There are youths who lean somewhat to Western music, much to the demise of many, but not to all.

Mayk does alright. He has a rock band and he is the star of his scene. He and his beautiful wife Irina have parties at their house all the time.

Contrary to what you may expect, there are actually concerts. As a matter of fact, there is a venue called “Rock House”. Well, the concerts are not entirely what you would imagine. The music, whether punk, rock or something else, is played acoustic, the audience sits in a theater and it is strictly forbidden to show any appreciation safe applause at the end of a song.
A band that wants to play at the Rock House has to have approval for the lyrics which of course are supposed to be patriotic, but a little irony here and there is allowed too.
All this leads to amusing situations of course.

Then we have a bored group of youths who enjoy the fringe of American music, from The Beatles to the Sex Pistols and Velvet Underground to Debbie Harry. Even though most of them to not understand the lyrics, some try to write out and analyze the lyrics.

The film revolves around Mayk and Irina, but also the upcoming musician Tony. You get an idea of the Russian music scene (very tame!) and what youths do to entertain themselves.

Then we have a couple of brilliant over-the-top punk scenes in which famous songs are misused and animations make the weirdest effects, these scenes really make the film a must-see.

Informative and entertaining!

Bohemian Rhapsody – Bryan Singer (2018)

I like music films and it helps if the music is good. Queen made some great songs (and a lot that I do not care for) so “Bohemian Rhapsody” naturally landed on my watchlist.

The film is mostly about Freddy Mercury. We see his youth, how he became the singer of the band, started to push his wild ideas and how the band’s star quickly rose. There are a few things here that I did not know about the band too.

The film starts with, and builds up to, the Live Aid concert of 20 minutes. In between there rapidly are big tours, big selling albums and of course the personal problems of Mercury who gets married, starts to explore other sexuality (the film seems to suggest that he was somewhat lured into homosexuality) and when his name is the biggest, becomes the wild party man who picks up the upcoming disease with the little name.

We see the band in the studio and on stage, so there is enough music in the film. Yep, a good watch.

Love & Mercy * Bill Pohlad (2014)

I often like films about musicians even when I do (did) not like the music. I expected this film to be about the Beach Boys. Actually this film is more about Brian Wilson, one of the brothers Wilson who started the band.

We jump back and forth in time. We see an adult Wilson (played by John Cusack) who is initially set as a bit of an odd person. In the past Wilson is played by Paul Dano and we see the Beach Boys already at the peak of their success. They are as big as the Beattles and ready to tour the world. Also here Brian is a bit off, but mostly in a ‘mad genious way’. He decides to stop touring with his brothers and to stay in the studio to write music. His music becomes more and more experimental and does not really sound like the Beach Boys’ success style. Brian increasingly appears to have autistic features.

In the present time Brian meets the pretty car sales woman Melinda Ledbetter. As Melinda grows into the group around her boyfriend-to-be, it becomes clear that more is wrong with Brian than him being a little odd. There is also something wrong with the people who say to want to take care of Brian. Especially his doctor Eugene Lendy (a good part of Paul Giamatti) is a questionable person.

“Love & Mercy” is mostly a drama. The music is secondary and you will learn little about how, when and why Beach Boys songs were written, so they add little to the atmosphere of the film. Perhaps (I do not know the Beach Boys very well) the film does give some insight in the less-popular recordings of the band (or Brian with other musicians).

An alright film, mostly to watch as a film about a person with a problem.

Whiplash * Damien Chazelle (2014)

Andrew is an ambitious drummer, studying at a jazz conservatoire. He manages to get the attention of the legendary teacher Fletcher who adds him to his band consisting of the best students.

Fletcher proves to be a despot driving his students over the edge to find the great new jazz musicians. His tyranical way of working brings up the worst and the best in Andrew.

“Whiplash” is an alright film about the tough top league of jazz music. It is more a film telling a story than a film about music(ians) though. I prefer the latter kind in music film.

Amy * Asif Kapadia (2015)

IMdB.comI do not listen to popmusic a lot, that is to say, music played on ‘regular radio stations’. One time in the gym I saw and heard “Rehab” and I actually enjoyed the soul-like music and old-time musicians in the video. On looking a bit futher, it proved that “Back To Black” is an enjoyable album. Winehouse’s star rose and it soon became obvious that this would not be a long life. Watching the documentary, it becomes obvious that there were many, many more people like me who discovered Winehouse with “Rehab” and “Back To Black” and that is when the problems became serious.

“Amy” is not a great documentary to me, but on the other hand, it shows very well how things came to be. The documentary is a compilation of (private) video recordings and interviews with different people either older interviews or interviews done by the director. We see Winehouse as a kid, how she roled into recorded music, how she started to make money, live on her own, start with alcohol, run into her husband-to-be and started to use drugs and then when things were already quite out of hand, the media jumped on her full force. The pressure to make a second album after “Frank”, the success it had and how (media) pressure grew bigger and bigger up until the time that Winehouse stopped caring and then ran downhill with the speed of light.

What is done well is that the lyrics are displayed when (a part of) a song is played, showing the enormousity of the personality of these lyrics. Also some lyrics get a bit of context from interviews.

There is not as much music in “Amy” as I expected. Much of the music was new to me. Of course Winehouse’s life was not all glorious, but the ‘high times’ seem to be a bit underrated, while the ‘hard times’ get much more attention.

“Amy” shows the troubled life of a young musician squashed by her success. A story of which there are many alike. I hope that the (so called) fans watch this documentary and realise their own part in the events, the same as the media and some other people around Winehouse who could have (should have) seen a person rather than a star.