Summer is a time of endless possibility: one of the most primal and basic the chance to listen to great music. The greatest concert I ever saw was the Rolling Stones the summer before my sophomore year of high school at Soldier Field during their iconic Some Girls tour.
The astute and capability folks at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, having just completed a three-day festival devoted to new French cinema, offer another sideways though imaginable act with its debut edition of a Summer Music Festival.
The program’s fairly eclectic, six features, several directed by the country’s greatest filmmakers, incorporating a mélange of forms and styles that encompass essay films, concert films and works that resist outright categorization. Sure, many of the titles are not new, and they are readily available, even in high-definition video formats; but just as the outdoor concert experience is impossible to conjure indoors, so is the chance to relive these works in a large (and stereophonic) setting.
If you live in Chicago, check it out. Here’s the full list and schedule.
The rock critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogotis, long-time hosts of the wonderful “Sound Opinions,” radio show, are introducing Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s sublime and unsurpassable concert film of the Talking Heads.
Demme’s great skill, not just his vaunted humanism, is his ability to individualize performers and their different playing styles. The concert film was culled together from two different shows by Talking Heads. The music is not just kinetic and audacious; it’s great cinema, not surprising given it was shot by the great Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner). David Byrne’s staging is Brechtian, spare and beautiful, and assigns a certain verve and beauty to each of the performers. I can’t wait to see it again.
Like Demme, Martin Scorsese has pirouetted through a lot of different forms, styles and formats. His superb 1978 The Last Waltz, about the final concert of The Band, is glorious, eccentric and deeply moving. Scorsese (and Demme) have gloriously and fluidly moved back and forth, making other works on music, Demme about Robyn Hitchcock and several terrific Neil Young pieces.
Scorsese, it’s worth remember, was a key collaborator on Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock. Just like his love of cinema, Scorsese has rummaged through music’s past, creating poetic and beautiful works about Bob Dylan and (forthcoming) George Harrison. Michael Chapman was the principal photographer, and gives the work the same charged immediacy he brought to the swirling, hypnotic textures of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
I’d be thrilled to see Grant Gee’s Radiohead: Meeting People is Easy projected. Previewing it on DVD, I was knocked out by the formal energy and inventiveness, the switch in formats, the vague, slippery beauty of Super 8 and the harder edged, more impressionistic early digital video. The 1998 work is structured around the (mostly) European tour connected to the band’s breakthrough third release, OK Computer. Gee is apparently a music video director of note, but the dominant influence appears to be Wim Wenders. It’s close to an essay film, merging a discordant, even lonely sense of the road (and the profound disappointment of not being able to enjoy it) with the routine and monotony inherent in touring.
As far as immediate relevance, the most important title is The Swell Season, given the two screenings constitute the movie’s Midwestern premiere. I’ve written before what a fan I am of John Carney’s Once. The new documentary premiered at Tribeca, and I caught up with it at the market in Cannes. (Since this is the one title awaiting a formal theatrical release, the distributor has requested there be no formal reviews.)
The Swell Season, a beautifully shot documentary made by the team of Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, is suffused with an understated melancholy about the emotional costs of success. Once’s surprisingly potent commercial success (and the Academy award they won for their beautiful ballad, “Falling Slowly”) catapulted the careers and commercial viability of the stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
The band, which originated as a side project of Hansard’s estimable rock group The Frames, got very big; as I’ve said before, I think a big reason is that the documented personal relationship of the two leads provided the more emotionally satisfying ending many wanted of Carney’s film. The Swell Season, the documentary, has a great theme, the impossibility of reconciling love and art.
It’s summed up in echoing imagery of water. In the first, in a startling frank and revealing moment near the beginning, the two strip naked and run heedlessly toward the water. In the second, Irglová is shown pensive and alone, tentatively trying to negotiate the small waves that float around her. It’s a beguiling image of an interesting movie ripened in sadness and rupture.