A Room with a (Balcony) View

Road Movie, Summer Cannibals and Hype!
1996 Vancouver International Film Festival
October 4-20, 1996

Reviews by Kevin Templeton

Well, the 15th annual Vancouver International Film Festival is over for another eventful year, and I'm certainly not the only Vancouverite looking forward to next year's festival with a heightened anticipation that only an event of this cultural magnitude can inspire. And since music is such a large part of our culture -- and the focus of this magazine -- I'll share my reactions to some of the more music-oriented films (rockumentaries, if you will) on display at theatres around town this past October. Alright, then, lights, camera, action!

R.E.M. Road Movie (USA, 1996, 90 min.) is R.E.M.'s latest foray into the visual media front and is a well-crafted concert film capturing the last remaining nights -- at the Omni in Athens, Georgia -- of the band's ill-fated "Monster" tour. Directed by Peter Care, whose past clients include Killing Joke and New Order, Road Movie documents the entirety of the modern-day arena-rock experience, complete with dizzying effects, neo-punk camera angles and a let-the-music-do-the-talking premise. I'm sure many cinema-goers thought as I did that perhaps some token "road" footage (backstage or tour life abstractions) would be included -- it is called Road Movie, after all -- but this wasn't the case. It's kinda weird sitting in a movie theatre watching straight concert footage, but what captivating footage it was!

Arguably the best band in rock today, R.E.M. maintain incredibly solid stage presence through-out Road Movie, which is impressive considering how little they've toured during the latter years of their career. Frontman Michael Stipe, fitting somewhere between the self-pretence of Bono and the self-pity of Eddie Vedder, is his usual zealous self, singing and posing his way through cuts like "Crush with Eyeliner" and "The Wake-up Bomb," as the the organic "Let Me In" and the band's universal song of pain, "Everybody Hurts." Every musical angle is covered, and the film takes great care (oops) in providing the viewer with every perspective throughout the arena, as well. Sonic drama aplenty, Road Movie is also now available on video and I definitely recommend it to any R.E.M. fan, especially the ones who didn't catch the band a couple summers back at the Coliseum. Two thumbs up.

Summer Cannibals (USA, 1996, 4 min.) ran as a short film previous to the R.E.M. feature. Directed by Robert Frank, this Patti Smith video/song, filmed in black and white, starkly portrays Smith as the aged, charismatic and barefoot songstress whose return to the rock 'n roll jungle was received with abundant critical aclaim throughout much of '96. Strange and wonderful.

a moshpit from 'Hype!' Hype! (USA, 1995, 84 min.) opens up with the telling images of lush Northwest U.S. forests turning into clearcut graveyards, with the stripped logs subsequently being driven from the region on the backs of logging trucks headed... elsewhere. No, this isn't an environmental documentary on the destruction of West Coast rainforests; rather, Hype! attempts to examine the cause and effect of the Seattle (music) scene marketing frenzy, with respected grunge guru/producer Jack Endino and photographer Charles Peterson rendering much of the film's prognosis into the over-exposure and exploitation of the Seattle musical aesthetic throughout the early 90's.

With considerable emphasis put on many of the region's punkier grunge bands (The Supersuckers, Fastbacks, Seaweed), Hype! clutters many of its interviews and performances (some of which come across as rather contrived "live" situations) together in a haphazard, fanzine-like montage, making the film's inner surface difficult to penetrate at times. Especially confusing was the afterthought approach given to the tragedies suffered throughout the Northwest music circles (Andrew Wood, Mia Zapata, Kurt Cobain, etc). What Hype! does succeed in translating is its accurate portrayal of the music as strictly a marketing commodity, or product-for-product's-sake. That is a given. But don't expect the film to wander from its course to explain the ripple effects of said exploitation. A tragic flaw, perhaps. One thumb up.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on October 31, 1996

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