CAN INDIE DIRECTORS EVER REALLY ROCK OUT?
Producer Ted Hope sent in the below rumination on indie film and rock music for the blog. It was presumably prompted by two projects. Hope produced Hal Hartley’s latest, Fay Grim, which opened this weekend. As Hope notes, Hartley has made a “true rock gesture” in all of his films; he’s a director who seems to follow current music, incorporate it into his films, and, through his forays into music video, actively approach it on its own terms.. Also, this week Hope announced The Passenger an Iggy Pop bio-pic set to be directed by Nick Gomez and star Elijah Wood as the Stooges-era Pop.
Most directors I know are music nuts. Many even play instruments. They all seem to make mix tapes. Or rather mix CDs. At least in between jobs. They pride themselves to some degree on their music taste and knowledge. But can anyone ever make a great film about music. Should anyone even try?
Music docs are another beast altogether. A performer, a performance, their music, even their process can be captured on film. Don’t Look Back and even Eat The Document give a glimpse, behind the curtain, at an artist beyond what I had imagined them as before. Cocksucker Blues may be the greatest rock and roll movie ever made, but not because of anyone’s performance but for the world, not of The Rolling Stones but of their hanger ons, that it exposes. And The Devil and Daniel Johnson, which I had the pleasure of aiding, reveals bits and pieces of an incredibly complex man who makes deceivingly simple seeming music and all which somehow elevates us and makes it seem more worth living (and isn’t that what the dream of all art is, to some degree).
But what of narratives? of fictions? Of recent times, Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People comes the closest to being a perfect rock film in that its failures feel like perfect rock moves. I probably have the most affection for Sid and Nancy by Alex Cox as I had the glorious pleasure of being a PA on that (calling my first “roll” and “cut” as Gary Oldman pops up at the bottom of the stairs after a stuntman’s tumble). The film was made with what always has felt to me as pure rock attitude, as Alex Cox seemed to improvise many of the greatest moments, deliberating creating chaos all around him but finding the calm center that S&N could escape into. I am thinking about Rock Films as I would like to make a whole bunch of them, but financiers tell me that no one wants to see them. That may be true, but we all know the reason no one goes is because everyone out there knows most rock films really truly suck. You know that they are fakers, wannabes, not even approaching a put on. It’s all performance of performance.
Music videos have always held more promise for me than they have ever delivered. They never feel like they are about the music. At best they are about the filmmaking. The Director Series that Palm put out a few years back were great films and infinitely watchable, but like all videos they are not about music. Great ideas with great visuals and great backing tracks but do they put the music forward. Could they, if they had more than the length of a song to play with? I would be curious to see a collection of music videos made by filmmakers who don’t consistently make music videos and aren’t really trying to deliver the product just to sell the disc. I know that all the indie filmmakers have made a spot or two or three along the way;
you’d think the indie cinema gods could wield strong swords against the capitalist hordes; keep art for arts sake and not sell out. But I have yet to find the collection of the collected music videos of Jarmusch, The Coens, Harmony Korine, and Wong Kar Wai. I have a few links here and there but where’s the master list? When’s Palm or anyone going to put out the Indie Director Series?
Hal Hartley, who has had many a true rock gesture in all of his films, has made a handful of videos, two of which I have had the pleasure of working. The good folks at Matador Records recently posted Hal’s Yo La Tengo video on their blog and it’s worth checking out. Fay Grim opened on Friday. Please check it out.
If you’re interested in Hartley’s own music, you can download it from eMusic here.
And Hartley’s video for Beth Orton’s “Stolen Car” can be watched here.