Archive for February 2012
From the current issue of Clash.
“I’m a believer in not setting out to make a film that falls into a certain genre,” begins Sean Durkin when discussing his brilliant debut movie Martha Marcy May Marlene. Charted through a time-shifting narrative, it focuses on the traumatic memories of an escaped cult member (Martha, played with utmost conviction by Elizabeth Olsen) as she tries to reconnect with her sister who is unaware of the horrors of Martha’s recent years. While cults are often the preserve of the horror, Durkin employs splashes of the genre with elements of family and psychological drama in a manner that recalls the work of Michael Haneke.
“The idea of mass conformity was just really terrifying to me but I didn’t want to address that, I wanted to find a way to research it on a smaller, personal level,” explains Durkin. After reading about the likes of Jonestown and the Manson family, the director investigated stories of how ordinary people – from Ivy Leaguers to teenage runaways – can fall under a cult’s manipulation. “[You can] see how it affected someone even in their presence, talking about it years later and how it still haunts them.”
Much of the attention on the film to date has been focused on Olsen’s debut performance. Expertly combining a sense of innocence twisted into extreme paranoia, her role is all the more impressive given that she was cast just over a week before filming commenced. “I didn’t do much guiding,” he says. “With a really good young actor, they can be really great but you still sometimes have to guide or pull a performance out. Lizzie was just ready. It was amazing.”
The film’s most memorable scene comes when charismatic cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) pulls Martha under his control by performing a song he wrote for her. Durkin searched for songs matching the names in his film’s title and found Jackson C. Frank’s Marlene. “I searched for the album and the song right after Marlene was Marcy’s Song. I named the film almost four years earlier and to see Marlene and Marcy back to back on an album made in the Sixties was just…” he trails off, momentarily discomforted. “The whole tone of the music is so perfect for the film. It’s very haunting: beautiful but sad.” Hawkes’ performance of the song adds a sinister layer to the ominous melancholy of the original.
From Clash, January 2012.
Widely considered to be the first ever science fiction film upon its release in 1902, Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip To The Moon) was a groundbreaking moment in the creation of cinematic special effects. Charting the tale of six astronomers who fly to the moon and find themselves confronted by an alien life-form, the only known hand-coloured print of the film to be in existence was discovered in a state of near total decomposition back in 1993. Manually restored over many years, it was finally completed last year after further work at the Technicolor Lab of Los Angeles.
The film’s producers subsequently approached AIR – no strangers to film scores after their work on The Virgin Suicides and with established flirtations with intergalactic concepts – to create a brand new score for their recoloured and restored fourteen-minute movie.
“It was an opportunity for us to do something really special and unique,” says AIR’s Jean-Benoît Dunckel. “This movie is really well known all over the world and it’s a symbol for the world of cinema, for moviemakers. We knew also that the colouring of the movie would make a new masterpiece. It’s very Tim Burton, it’s very stylish.”
Given just twenty-eight days to complete the score ahead of last summer’s premiere at Cannes, AIR combined songs that they had been working on prior together with music written specifically to soundtrack Méliès’ fantastical imagery. “It had to go in several directions with slow beats, sometimes some up-tempo tracks with crazy solos, delays and these kinds of things,” explains Dunckel, crediting Paris’ artistic activity of the time as an inspiration. “We wanted to do something very surrealistic, very psychedelic… a bit like Sgt. Pepper.”
People at the premiere “were in shock, but they liked it a lot,” he continues. Not that everyone felt that way. Shortly after the screening, Dunckel overheard some people complaining that the music should’ve reflected the sounds of the film’s era. “It’s better to shock people, to create something really new and shocking, rather than doing something conformist,” he states with intense self-belief.
Unable to perform a live score to accompany screenings of the film due to rights issues, AIR will be releasing an extended version of the soundtrack as the album Le Voyage dans la Lune. A limited edition version of the album (restricted to 70,000 copies globally) will add a DVD of the movie.
From Clash, January 2012.
The opening bassline of The Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats echoes out across the Fuji Rock festival. Deep in the throng of 50,000 revellers, the focus falls on one Japanese man. His jaw shoots open, exposing a chasm of teeth (and more than a couple of fillings). His face twists into a contortion of ecstasy. This is what it’s like to lose your fucking mind at a show.
“I’m hoping that through the film we’ll find him,” says Adam Smith, The Chemical Brothers’ visual arts collaborator and director of the duo’s new live film Don’t Think. “We called him Matt during the editing. One of his eyebrows was shaved off and I like to think that happened the night before. He was so into the gig that he couldn’t give a fuck about anything else.”
Smith’s work with The Chemical Brothers has evolved from low-budget roots to one of the most jaw-dropping shows you’re likely to see. Don’t Think unites the three main components of a performance: the pair’s pulsating sounds, the crazed appreciation of the audience and Smith’s maddening images which flow effortlessly from an evil talking clown to a gargantuan warhorse to a creeping flight of virtual insects.
Pivotal to the success of Don’t Think is the emotional connection between the artist and the fans. “I thought back to some narrative stuff that I’d done and realised that you need to look at it through someone’s eyes,” explains Smith. “Then the film audience can relate to that person. I wanted to show just how much electronic music can touch and affect people.”
The film also offers a rare chance to see the finer details of Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands’ performance. A close-up shot of a button being hit prompts a wave of activity amongst thousands of people. Simons hollers along to the vocal samples, Rowlands, as Smith enthuses, “is absolutely living, breathing, emanating and inhaling the music all at the same time.” It contributes to an intense, dazzling and hypnotic experience which adds fresh artistry to the live music documentary format.
For those wanting further insight into Smith’s work with The Chemical Brothers, he’ll be speaking at a special screening of Don’t Think at London’s BFI on February 3rd. This interactive talk will include live visual displays, demonstrations of his work and footage from his videos for other artists such as The Streets.
From Clash, December 2011.
Radiohead, Foals and Supergrass are just some of the names to have emerged from Oxford, and members of all three bands feature in Jon Spira’s thoroughly entertaining new documentary Anyone Can Play Guitar which charts the history of the local music scene. Yet it’s the stories and the sounds of the bands that didn’t quite reach the same level – The Unbelievable Truth, The Candyskins and Dustball, to name but three – who give this unconventional rock documentary its identity.
“If you look at most music docs, you have the same story,” states Spira, noting the infamous Anvil rockumentary as an exception. “The stories about those who didn’t make it and why they didn’t make it are far more interesting. I hope what comes across in the film is that the bands that didn’t make it are every bit as talented as the bands that did make it.”
As a filmmaker and scene stalwart who’s absolutely in love with his topic, Spira is perhaps the only person who could’ve made this documentary, with most of interviewees on show either friends, associates or friends of associates. His enthusiasm is surely the reason why so many delicately intimate moments are drawn from the film’s cast of talking heads.
The roots of the film lay in the closure of famous Oxford venue The Zodiac which at the time was about to be closed and later reopened as an Academy venue. Its emphasis, however, is a little different.
“It became really apparent that the reason why the community has been so successful is because the bands inspire each other to greater success,” says Spira, adding that Radiohead’s support for the film was motivated by giving a voice to the Oxford bands that originally inspired them. “You can see how having a community that supports each other really encourages creativity.”
Entirely self-released, the film still carries much of its initial anti-corporate philosophy. While local bands still play the Academy, Spira believes that its 1000 capacity main hall has hindered the aspirations of such bands. “When you got to the point as a local band that you were headlining upstairs at The Zodiac, it meant that you were big enough to go national,” he explains. “Now no local band can play the biggest stage in Oxford and I think psychologically that does have an impact. The Zodiac was the spiritual home of the Oxford music scene and that’s gone.”
(Radiohead photo by Pat Pope).