Documentaries

Cannes 2016: Gimme Danger (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

19 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Documentaries, Review

Michael Leader catches the Cannes premiere of Jim Jarmusch’s documentary chronicling the career of The Stooges…

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What a treat! Not one, but two new films from independent cinema deity Jim Jarmusch in the Official Selection at Cannes. The first was Paterson, which Film4’s Catherine Bray reviewed earlier this week, and here’s the flip-side, a rousing documentary about proto-punk pioneers The Stooges.

Formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1967 by former jobbing drummer James Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop), brothers Ron and Scott Asheton (guitar and drums, respectively), and bassist Dave Alexander, The Stooges perfected a chaotic, caterwauling subgenre of garage rock that proved impossible to market in both the psychedelic late-60s and the more commercially-driven early-70s, despite the efforts of Elektra Records and, later, David Bowie and his MainMan management firm. Perhaps best known as the incubator that birthed the serpentine, shirtless behemoth Iggy Pop, The Stooges’ three LPs only grew in stature as time passed, greatly influencing many key musical moments in the years since, from punk to alternative rock to grunge.

Jim Jarmusch – clearly a rock ‘n roll nut as evidenced by his soundtrack choices, casting decisions and recurring thematic obsessions – has only flirted with the music documentary genre once before, with the rarely-revisited Neil Young tour movie Year Of The Horse, and those expecting that Gimme Danger will match the tone of the director’s feature films may be somewhat disappointed – for this is, unavoidably, a conventional, largely linear rock-doc, chock-full of talking heads and archival footage. Happily, however, it’s an absolute riot.

If you look, you’ll find Jarmusch’s fingerprints all over Gimme Danger, from the odd bit of off-camera chatter (“We are interrogating Jim Osterberg…”) to a soundtrack cut from his sludgy, Stooges-influenced side project SQÜRL, but the director clears the stage to tell the story of this highly influential, mythologised band. Having an avowed mega-fan behind the camera brings not just the expected energy in revisiting the highlights of the band’s short recording history, it also balances the film’s outlook, imbuing the dreaded back-half of any retrospective with an infectious curiosity. Take, for example, the retelling of the band’s late-game ‘reunification’, as told by bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE), who plots a path from Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam-rock pseudo-biopic Velvet Goldmine (featuring a character based on Pop), through a debilitating illness that prevented him from playing music, to his recovery covering Stooges songs live with various musicians (including Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and the Ashetons), to the eventual revival of the band’s initial lineup, with Watt filling in on bass, at Coachella in 2003.

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Also key is the incredible story of James Williamson, guitarist and songwriter on scuzzy 1973 classic Raw Power, who dropped out of the music industry to become an electrical engineer and, eventually, vice president of technical standards at Sony, only to rejoin The Stooges in 2009, sounding as ferocious as ever, while looking like someone’s retired uncle had won a competition to be a rock star for the night.

It would have been all too easy to cash in on Iggy Pop’s boundless charisma and inexhaustible store of anecdotes (from hanging out with Nico to inventing, and botching, the first stage dive); it’s trickier to shift focus to the band behind the frontman, some of whom, including Scott Asheton and saxophonist Steve Mackay, passed away after being interviewed, yet before the finished film’s premiere. To many they may have been known as ‘Iggy & The Stooges’, but Pop asserts throughout that the band were philosophically, if not politically, Communist. In Gimme Danger, Jarmusch has crafted a loving, detailed documentary that perfectly reflects this musical ideal.

 Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

Paul Goodwin on Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD

04 Apr, 2016 Posted in: Directors, Documentaries, Film4 Channel, Interview

As Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD receives its TV premiere, director Paul Goodwin talks to Film4 site editor Michael Leader about making a documentary about the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, home to iconic characters such as Judge Dredd, and launchpad for some of the medium’s most influential writers and artists…

Future-Shock

ML: What’s your history with 2000 AD? Were/are you a reader?

PG: Yes! Pretty much everyone involved in the production of the film are fans of 2000 AD of one era or another – it’s a real passion project for us all.

I first came to it in about 1986. I borrowed a stack of old progs from a school friend and it all just blew my tiny mind! I remember reading some Rogue Troopers, Nemesis The Warlock and my first Judge Dredd was the Judge Child Quest. Immediately I was experiencing these crazy worlds and characters that were totally different to anything I’d ever read – I was hooked. I spent every day after school down at the comic shop in Harrow, and every weekend traipsing around Denmark Street and Paradise Alley cleaning them out of back issues for pennies. It was a seminal experience. Once you experience 2000 AD it stays with you for life!

When producing a film like this, where do you start? Were you looking at other documentaries, either about comics or not, to figure out the structure, tone and approach?

In terms of other documentaries, we definitely liked Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood, and talked about the tone and pace, and we wanted to create something similar for our subject. We didn’t have the luxury of all that great footage in NQH to use as cutaways though, but we did have nearly 40 years of fucking awesome artwork!

Structure-wise we knew we would use the rough chronological spine, but there were certain important aspects we wanted to focus on such as the state of the comics scene before 2000 AD in the 70s, the migration of talent to the US in the 80s and the troubles the comic went through during the 90s. These were all things that, as fans, we wanted to know about ourselves, so it was great fun exploring those subjects in the interviews. We also delved into the inspiration behind the characters, which gave us the chance to explore the very heart of 2000 AD, the subversion and the anarchy!

Another crucial element of the film is the soundtrack, composed by Justin Greaves of Crippled Black Phoenix. He’s also a massive 2000 AD fan, and we all agreed that the music needed to add attitude and a punk dynamic to reflect the 2000 AD experience. It’s amazing, perfect.

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Interviewing writer Neil Gaiman…

There are so many moving parts in a production like this – interviewee access, clip clearances, imagery rights, not to mention everything that comes after the film itself is finished. What’s the hardest part of the process?

Overall, the entire project has been a joy to work on, but I’ll admit that the stuff after post production can be a bit of a drag. The film is finished and you have like another year’s worth of admin! Luckily the subject matter is something I cared about so much it was never a chore. By far the most difficult part was the legal side. 2000 AD has had quite few fiery and passionate personalities involved over the years, and so there was a busy task of ironing out any potential litigious content. Also with all the clips and artwork to clear there were endless trims and edits back and forth to keep our lawyer happy. That process went on for months, not cheap either…

Interviewing 2000 AD creator Pat Mills...

Interviewing 2000 AD creator Pat Mills…

The roster of writers, artists, editors and 2000 AD comrades that you interview in the film is incredible. Of course, they’re all remarkable, but do you have any personal favourites?

It was a genuine honour to meet and chat about comics with all our contributors and I thank each one for giving up their time to speak to us. Everyone was hugely supportive of the project and their passion and openness on camera was a testament to what an impact 2000 AD has had on us all.

I would say that our interview with Pat Mills was very important, that was the moment we knew we had a great spine for the documentary. He’s so important to the history of the comic, he recognised that we wanted to do a very thorough job and was happy to talk at length about anything and everything to do with the 2000 AD.

We were also very lucky to sit down with Alex Garland for a couple of hours; he’s not known for doing many interviews but told us he was happy to be involved as 2000 AD was such a seminal influence. On a personal note, it was a huge honour to interview Peter Milligan, whose work I’ve admired for many years.

Where would you recommend a newcomer to 2000 AD start, if their interest in the comic is piqued after watching the film?

Ha! Well, apart from signing up for the prog every week… I’d send people straight to DR & Quinch. S’right!

Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD premieres on Film4 at 11.25pm on Wednesday 6th April 2016, as part of Dark Futures Season.

Berlin 2016: Kate Plays Christine

17 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Documentaries, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray is gripped by a blend of documentary and fiction exploring an anchorwoman’s on-air suicide in 1974…

Kate Plays Christine

Kate Plays Christine

Boy, is this a film that could have gone very wrong indeed. A risky subject matter (suicide), combined with a formally risky approach (half-fictional, half-documentary, all high wire act), combine in writer-director Robert Greene’s exploration of the 1974 on-air suicide of anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck, via the device of an actor, Kate Lyn Sheil, preparing to play her in a cinematic re-enactment.

With almost irritating finesse, Greene pulls it off, wavering occasionally in a manner reminiscent of a tightrope walker whose wobbles are part of the performance. But perhaps that unfairly suggests the film is a stunt – it’s much more than that.

In other docs, the pertinent opening act information about Chubbuck would have been largely expositional – here, we’re watching Sheil react to the information in real time as a natural consequence of her research process. What we’re experiencing feels human, rather than like a forensic analysis, but confers the same benefits as a forensic analysis in terms of imparting information, with added layers of emotional richness. And that’s the film in microcosm.

With less intelligent handling, this approach could easily have crashed and burned. We never know quite how much of what we’re seeing is scripted, or rehearsed reality, or improvisation, or straight documentary, and that disorienting mixture feels intentional. This is non-fiction film-making with the stabilisers taken off.

Sheil’s performance is a big part of this success. It’s a role that could have been overly “actress-y” or affected, as she searches for commonalities and points of difference with what tabloids would call the “tragic figure” of Christine Chubbuck. The film plays sly games with our desire to both see and not see what happened, pushing and pulling in different directions and needling at our obscure sense of guilt: why are we drawn to such lurid subjects?

Greene doesn’t offer easy answers, but does interrogate the role of the camera in such transactions, which is why Chubbuck’s case is such an apt one – this was a performative suicide, informed by the presence of the camera, the rhetoric of her last words hand-crafted in the language of the newsroom: “In keeping with Channel 40′s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.”

The detail Kate Plays Christine pulls out of this statement that I’ve found myself returning to most since watching the film is the word “attempted”. The precision of her choice of words is chilling; she didn’t know whether she would succeed and was therefore accurate to the last, a macabre piece of journalistic pedantry.

Robert Greene is the first ever winner of the writing prize at Sundance for authoring a film classified as a documentary, and the award is significant in recognizing the capacity of docs to go beyond ripped-from-the-headlines polemics or putatively objective reportage. It is to be hoped that the honour also helps distributors (Dogwoof are handling in the UK) in drawing the audiences this film deserves to cinemas.

See other coverage from the Berlin Film Festival

 

 

 

 

Director Shane Meadows’ Top Five Stone Roses Tracks

With The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone premiering on Channel 4 this Easter Weekend at 10.50pm on Record Store Day – Saturday 19th April – director Shane Meadows shares his top five Stone Roses tracks

 

1. Sally Cinnamon

The song that gave us kids of the 80s our very own 60s. Rock and roll wasn’t what mattered, it was having something only you understood, that only you and your generation believed in that mattered, and we believed in the Stone Roses. This song was an indication of what was to follow in their debut album: unadulterated greatness.

2. Waterfall

I played this song on vinyl on my Matsui (low cost all-in-one stereo from Argos) record player, in my bedroom for my first girlfriend (not ever, just my first one in tie-dye) from art college. She was a painter, she was vegetarian and she had political views. I was pretending to be an actor, pretending to be a vegetarian and pretended to have political views. But I believed in the Stone Roses music and when I put this track on, she ignored my fraudulent attempts be a hipster and kissed me for ages.

3. Standing Here

The outro that runs for the last 2 minutes of this song is the purest, simplest, most beautifully jangly and moving moment of any Roses tune for me.

4. Made Of Stone

Every band should have an anthem and although Fools Gold comes close, Made Of Stone is that Record. I can’t drive to Fools Gold as I want to pull over and start throwing some shapes, and you have to be able to drive up the M6 to an anthem. Made of Stone is that tune.

5. Fools Gold

What can you say that hasn’t already been said at least a 1000 times. Is it indie, is it funk, is it a dance track? Frick knows, but it’s a belter! It defied comparison at the time and still kicks arse. I built the entire end of our film around this song. It’s iconic, it is one of the only songs I ever dance to and it sparked our summer of love. If it came out for the first time today, it would still start a fire.

Click here to buy The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone on 2 disc Collector’s Edition DVD or Steelbook Blu-Ray now

Watch the trailer for The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone:

 

20,000 Days On Earth directors Q&A

26 Jan, 2014 Posted in: Awards, Directors, Documentaries, Festivals, Interview, Sundance

Catherine Bray interviews Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the directors whose portrait of Nick Cave’s 20,000th day on earth was recently embraced by Salt Lake City audiences at Sundance.

20000 Days On Earth

20000 Days On Earth

With two standing ovations from the packed Egyptian Theatre when it premiered in Sundance and two awards, for Best Directing and Best Editing, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s feature debut 20,000 Days On Earth was one of the most warmly received films at the 2014 edition of the Utah-based festival. Billed in several what-to-see-at-Sundance preview pieces as “the Nick Cave documentary”, the audience soon found out it wasn’t as simple as that. Although it isn’t exactly fiction, 20,000 Days On Earth isn’t exactly a documentary, either. Tracking a fictionalised version of the Bad Seeds frontman’s 20,000th day on earth, it’s a portrait of Nick Cave, not a fly-on-the-wall snapshot. And like many of the most interesting portraits, it isn’t photo-real, but gives an impression of the man, drawing together facets of his identity into a constructed whole that is deeper and more interesting than a more realistic approach would be.

Too many rock docs are like either a paparazzi’s picture of a celebrity, capturing them off-guard in an unflattering light that destroys the persona of the performer, or else a Hello magazine portrait, endorsed and airbrushed and uninterestingly flattering. 20,000 Days On Earth sets out to be something else: distilling the essence of Nick Cave into an audio-visual portrait that is also something broader: a celebration of what it is to be inspired and to create. That it does so via scenes of Nick Cave watching Scarface with his kids, chowing down on eels with Bad Seed Warren Ellis and chauffeuring Kylie around Brighton is, of course, a massive bonus. I sat down with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard at Sundance to find out a bit more about how it all came to be.

Can you remember your very first contact with Nick’s work?

Jane: For me it was a song called ‘Slowly Goes the Night’ from Tender Prey. Iain put it on the first mixtape he ever gave to me, and I thought it was maybe an Elvis-era song. I didn’t really know who Nick was, it was just this gorgeous kind of Elvis-y, drunken, wonderful, amazing voice and I really fell in love with it. But I wouldn’t go and see Nick live for quite a long time, because Iain told me that he was really a violent performer and I used to be frightened of that.

Iain: The Bad Seeds were one of those bands that I found out about when I was at school. I remember hearing The Good Son and Your Funeral… My Trial, and being really excited by the fact that those two albums were by the same band. A lot of bands I liked at that kind of age were fairly unsophisticated, but the palette, I suppose, across those few Bad Seeds records was kind of incredible.


One thing that was an incredibly pleasant surprise about 20,000 Days On Earth for me was that I feel like anyone could watch it, whether or not they have any specific prior interest in Nick. Was that your aim from the beginning?

Iain: A couple of years back we made 14 forty minute long documentaries about each of Nick’s albums and they were very specifically made for fans – you needed to know the album, the song names, everything about it. They were made for the reissues, a film per reissue of each album, and so we felt we’ve been there, we’ve done that. We really delved into the minutiae of what it means to be a fan of that music and into the music itself, and the impact it has on people and how it lives on through their lives. And this was a deliberate decision to make something that was much more universal.

Jane: We started this wanting to make something that inspired people to do more, to make more, to be better, because that’s how we feel about Nick. When you get to know him, and when you watch him and the band at work, and you watch how disciplined and how progressive they are, and how brutal and ruthless in leaving behind half-baked ideas, you can’t help but feel completely fired up. You feel, “god, I wanna be like that”, I want to see things through, to bother to do things. So from day one we worked with the absolute certainty that we didn’t want to make a film just for fans – which is not to kind of dismiss the fans – but we wanted to make a big thing that would inspire everyone.

Iain Forsyth, Nick Cave and Jane Pollard at Sundance

Iain Forsyth, Nick Cave and Jane Pollard at Sundance

I was excited that you mentioned Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! as a reference point. I loved that film – and the trilogy. Do you think you’d ever do the Hospital Britannia follow up? Or an If… style prequel?

Jane: [laughs] Hospital Britannia, I do like, but there’s something about O Lucky Man! You know when you come back to something over and over again, and it’s not just about what something is, it’s also what it does to you. Some things set fire to you inside, and that’s what that film did, to us. It was really galvanizing for us, and we go back to it, not for anything really specific, but to get that feeling back, to get that kick up the arse every time.

Were there any other conscious film influences in the mix?

Jane: Not in a big way, but we did look at other music-related films. For a very short time it became a way of discussing ideas with Nick – we could talk about other films, and what we’d seen and what we liked and what we didn’t like. And I think we all agreed very quickly that what we didn’t like was films that tried to peel away the mask. Fly on the wall, classic music docs that follow the band and film their life for 12 months, and you see Bono doing the washing up, and Sting taking the kids to school and all this kind of nonsense… I don’t think those films really stand up, or have any sort of longevity, because very quickly the band moves on and is in a different place, and the films just become this historical record of that one moment.

Iain: The films that we really liked, or that we felt some sort of affinity with, were films that felt like they were reaching much higher than that, whether they succeeded or not. I’m not sure that any of them really got to where they were reaching for, and I wouldn’t necessarily say they were great films, but the ambition in them was exciting. There were two that we came back to. One was the Led Zeppelin film, The Song Remains The Same, which is ridiculous. It’s insane on many levels, but there’s something about what they’re trying to reach for. And the other that I think has stood the test of time less well maybe is One Plus One, the Jean Luc Godard Rolling Stones’ film, Sympathy for the Devil. There’s something very conceptual in it, and then again almost something Beckett-like. We got really fired up by the ambition of those films. I’m really glad that we didn’t try and include too many references though, because I think it gave us a freedom to really create our own language.

Jane: I think because we don’t come from a film-making world, and we’ve not made documentaries, we therefore felt there’s not a set of rules that we needed to follow, or a formula that we needed to respect. It still sticks a little bit every time I call it a “documentary”. Because I feel, “Is it? I don’t know. Maybe. Yeah.” It probably fits better in documentary than it does in drama. But it doesn’t quite fit in documentary either.

Maybe it needs a new genre: constructed-doc, or performance-doc or something like that. Sorry to ask this, but was it strange making a film with someone whose music you’ve grown up a fan of?

Jane: Yeah, but he makes it very easy. He’s just a really lovely, remarkable, warm, funny person. And he talks about himself sometimes in third person and that makes it a lot easier as well. Like there’s a Nick Cave that’s separate to the one you’re sitting with. You know, there’s the one you’re having dinner with and then there’s the one that goes on stage. So that helps. It helps an awful lot. There’ve been moments where you pinch yourself and you’re like, “That’s Nick Cave, that’s Nick Cave”. But you’ve got to get beyond that pretty quickly to be able to actually constructively work with someone.

Speaking of pinching yourselves, it’s pretty amazing to debut your first feature at Sundance – congratulations!

Iain: Yeah. I mean, it’s just the coolest thing, isn’t it? A year and a half ago whatever, we had this kind of semi-formed idea to make a film, and a year and a half later we’re at Sundance and we’ve made a film.

Jane: And I have no idea what happens now. That’s gorgeous. It’s delicious, and it’s really frightening as well. We’re going to show the film at Berlin, but what’s beyond Berlin, we don’t know. There is for us this kind of black hole of “I don’t know what happens then”. I don’t know what we will do. I don’t know what will happen to us. But I know we want to work in this world again. Because this world, and by this world, I mean the British independent filmmaking support system, that’s the world I want to work in again. It’s tremendously healthy and supportive and fairly radical, and it seems to be occupied by some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

Iain: They let us make the film we wanted to make, and all they did was help make that film a better film. Nick’s worked in Hollywood and he’s made some pretty big films, and hearing some of the experiences he’s had with big studios and filmmaking by committee is pretty terrifying, particularly coming from a kind of an art world background where nobody’s interfering. Some of those stories are absolutely terrifying. To have been able to make this film with Film4 and the BFI and Pulse and everyone else, and to feel like we were just enabled to make the film we wanted to make was amazing.

Jane: I was going to say I feel like a fraud, but I don’t know that I do. I thought I would, but actually I just feel very lucky. That we’ve got here on our first film, and we’re being received really well, that’s incredible. I mean, it’s such a buzz. There’s a surrealism to the whole experience. I feel really aware that I don’t wanna take it for granted, because I know that in this world, there are an awful lot of our peers and other filmmakers who’ve struggled to do this. So I feel really fortunate.

The film looks amazing – it was shot by Erik Wilson (Tyrannosaur, The Imposter), is that right?



Iain: Yeah, he’s great. The moment we met him, we knew we had to have him. There’s something so positive and infectious about his attitude. With other stuff we’d done with Nick over the years, we’d shot it ourselves, so to bring someone else into that role is quite daunting in a way, and Eric was just someone that immediately we knew we could trust. Because the film was more improvised than most scripts, and if there’s a technical problem, Nick’s not the kind of person where you can say, “Can we just go back and do that again?”

Jane: We ask people who work with us to trust certain principles that we have, and they’re principles that come from our practice. One of them is that a set belongs to the central person, in this case Nick. The set belongs to Nick. He’s a real person; he’s not an actor. He doesn’t have that discipline. That’s not something he understands. So when he comes on to set, the whole space has to feel like it’s his to walk around, in a 360 environment that he can just be in. So that means that there can’t be a lot of things that are usual to filmmaking, we just can’t have them. It comes out a bit more like theater, maybe, in that we ask our crew to disappear a lot, and we ask them to step back. We don’t allow a lot of cuts. We generally do takes that last for a couple of hours, and it’s a lot to ask. It’s a lot to ask of professionals who are just trying to do the very best job they can for you. But we need that psychological space for Nick to settle into.

You could probably work with a David Attenborough style camera crew, capturing wild animals in their environment… Was there anyone else in particular you couldn’t have made the film without?



Jane: Our producers really, since we’re inexperienced filmmakers. It’s not an industry we know anything about, so I think without the producers Dan Bowen at Pulse, and Jim Wilson, who is an independent producer, it wouldn’t have happened. They’ve both been just incredible at getting us from one end of the process to the other.



Iain: And really protecting us and protecting that vision of our ambition and enabling it to be made. I think within a week of meeting Jim, we were sat in a meeting, pitching for money, and got it. It was just great.

20,000 Days On Earth will be released in the UK in 2014