Thursday, 24 March 2011
Ridley Scott was once asked, how do you become a film director? His answer was, 'make a film'. That might sound obvious, but it's bang on the money advice. After all, he did just that, getting his brother Tony to act in his first short, Boy and Bicycle.
Just Keep Going, You Have Nothing Left To Lose is a good example of going out and trying something. Talking to strangers on the subway is a lovely idea, but Luke Rudkowski elevates the concept with a neat little mechanic for those who didn't want to talk. As soon as they said 'no', he asked them to point out someone else in the subway car for him to interview. As a device, it works really well, almost everyone's face lights up. You even suspect those who said 'no', now regretted their decision. The questions are also open-ended to spark debate and the film is competently put together. The only thing I would change is the music. This idea is strong enough. It doesn't need a soundtrack.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
A stunt in a doc is a narrative device used by the filmmaker to demonstrate an issue in a succinct and film-friendly manner. They can work. A good example is King Corn. In the film, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney grow an acre of corn to discover the problems farmers in America face and to see just what happens to this staple crop when it enters the food chain.
This device makes perfect sense – it structures and frames the questions the King Corn wants to raise. There are quite a few, you can read more about them on the film's website. Or you could watch the doc.
Morgan Spurlock's work is almost exclusively built around the stunt device. In his first documentary, Super Size Me, he famously ate nothing but McDonald's for a month to demonstrate just how pervasive the brand's influence is on the American public and its effect on their health.
But the stunt was flawed. Nobody dines exclusively on McDonald's – it's unrealistic. Also, if you ate nothing but burgers, fries and milkshakes crafted by the finest chefs in the land, you'll still mess yourself up. The audience already knows this. It's why we're watching. Are we surprised when a doctor tells him he's going to die?
If anything, Spurlock's stunt demonstrates the body's sheer resilience to bad food. And in turn, this opens up all sorts of interesting areas of debate. Being poor, especially in America, means fewer options. What effect does low quality food have on society in terms of crime, education and social mobility? Super Size Me touches on this a bit, but only in a general way. But we're not really watching for that. We want to see him chuck.
I always think a good doc should be surprising and educational. You should learn something about the world. I don't have much hope for Spurlock's new film, Advertising, The Movie.
This time, the filmmaker sets out to expose product placement in movies by using the mechanic to fund his documentary. Wayne's World sent up the phenomena 20 years ago. What is this film trying to say? What is there to learn we don't know already? Well perhaps one thing, maybe this was the only way Morgan could get a documentary financed, so he decided to make a film about it.
Stunts and experiments can work in documentary, but they should never get in front of the story.
Friday, 18 March 2011
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Yesterday, Brian Cox OBE was on Start the Week complaining about the recent decision to remix the sound on his BBC show, Wonders of the Universe. He argued the music was loud because it wasn't a lecture, but well, television. He has a point, people will watch his show for entertainment. But even though I have only seen a bit of the first episode, I must admit my eyebrows went north with the soaring strings.
It's an issue I have with documentaries. I know Wonders of the Universe is not a doc, but it is factual, and without sounding like a bit of a curmudgeon, I think you have to be careful about manipulating viewer emotion. A soundtrack should never get in front of the story. It shouldn't tell anyone watching the film, this is what you have to feel right now. Many of the complaints to Points of View about Brian's show were around this argument, you can read more about the story here, but the gist is that it 'dumbs down the subject matter'. Whether simply turning down the strings will make the content 'smarter' remains to be seen.
I think soundtrack has a place in documentary, it can flavour the story, but only with the lightest of touches. Of course, there are still the old cliches – I've really gone off the cello and any shimmering vibes because of their ubiquity.
So with that in mind, I've started writing bits and pieces for ATC, and I've asked others to contribute. Ideally, I want to make the soundtrack available alongside the film. I'm still deciding where that will be, but it would be great to get it on iTunes and Spotify. The way I see things is the soundtrack for ATC will be fairly sparse, but any recording released should be 'expanded'. Now how that will work out, I don't know. But there will be no shimmering vibes or mournful cellos. I promise.
I'm also fairly mindful there are some pretty cool things about the audio in ATC. At Santa Pod, the Tannoy churns out classic seventies rock all day long and that sounds interesting as it bounces around the speakers. Then there's the noise of the engines and other ambient stuff. I don't want to lose all that. So for a bit of inspiration, I've been listening to soundtracks that blend well with their story. Two composers spring to mind: John Luire's sparse arrangements for Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train and Don Ellis. Ellis wrote the soundtrack for the French Connection, and although it was never properly released, his discordant and spooky score is one of my favourites.
Tuesday, 8 March 2011
It's About That Time/The Theme - Live - Miles Davis - Bitches Brew Live
Ina vision - Virgo Four - Trax records 20th Anniversary Collection
Short Road - Wax Stag - Wax Stag
Marriage - Baths Remix - Gold Panda - Marriage
Marriage - Forest Swords Remix - Gold Panda - Marriage
Motion - Goldmund - 5mm Context
Excuses - Bibio - Excuses
Rosa - Grimes - Geidi Primes
Haunted Hall - Rainbow Arabia - Kabukimono
Miles Runs The Voodoo Down - Live - Miles Davis - Bitches Brew Live
Saturday, 5 March 2011
Friday, 4 March 2011
War=strong – Ike Yard – 1980-1982 Collected
All The Sun That Shines – Peaking Lights – 936
New Beat – Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine
Synchronize – Radio edit – Discodeine – Synchronize EP
Swingern In Fingern – Lithops – Queries
lover’s cravings – Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue Sampler
Thanks A Lot – Sea-Ders – The Freakbeat Scene
Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon – Live – The Three Degrees – The Best Of The Three Degrees: When Will I See You Again
33 222 1 222 (Live) – Don Ellis – Blue Note Trip Tease Part 2