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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Pavla Fleischer’s documentary The Pied Piper of Hutzovina is a very personal film.  Fleischer met Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz in 2004 and “fell under his spell.”  The film opens with home video footage of Fleischer spending time with Hutz, showing them not as filmmaker and musician but as two people testing the waters.  It is clear from the outset that Fleischer is smitten with Hutz and I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that Hutz was interested in getting “carnal” (to borrow a term from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated) with Fleischer.  Following an eventual romantic encounter, both return to their respective lives.  Fast-forward a year and Fleischer is with her camera crew following Hutz on a trip back to the Ukraine and Russia to explore his Roma roots.  It is a personal journey to explore the Gypsy spirit and his own cultural heritage.  “I’m the ultimate eastern European mutt,” Hutz says of himself.  What is the film about?  Hutz would say, ” It’s about my meeting Sasha Kolpakov, one of my musical gurus.”  But The Pied Piper of Hutzovina is also a portrait of unrequited love.

“My romantic interests were not part of Eugene’s plan.” – Pavla Fleischer

Very early in the journey it becomes clear that the experience is going to be a different one than Fleischer originally intended.  Another woman came accompanied Hutz on the trip.  And, per Hutz, she was not to be filmed.  It was a “take it or leave it” proposition.  Fleischer, in her voice over, says that “to have a film I would have to let Eugene lead.”  She does allow Hutz to call the shots and the film suffers some for it.  There is a ramshackleness at play here.  As an audience we are never quite sure where we are going.  There are portions of the film where Hutz disappears with his girlfriend and Fleischer and the crew are left wondering when he will return.  And when he does eventually appear, there’s always the question of where he (and they) would be going next.

A bit about Eugene Hutz.  Born to an assimilated Gypsy family in Kiev, Hutz and his parents left the Soviet Union in 1989 and eventually ended up in the United States when he was a teenager.  Hutz moved to New York in 1998 and started putting together the band Gogol Bordello.  Like all Gypsy music, Gogol Bordello produces a hybrid sound.  It is a mix of punk rock, hip-hop, dub, and traditional Gypsy music.  Hutz described his interest in forming the band as follows: “It’s all about tribal connections.  The first time I saw Iggy Pop on video I knew that was that.  I noticed some ethnic music to be quite psychotic and shamanic, and I couldn’t help but see the similarity.  Rock ‘n’ roll is dying, basically, in the west.  It does not deliver the energy it was supposed to.  Instead I’m creating my alternative, and that is Gogol Bordello.”

Pavla Fleischer is a Czech-born filmmaker based in London.  As the daughter of screenwriter Jan Fleischer, she grew up around filmmaking.  But a career as a filmmaker was not a given.  After graduating from Cambridge, with a degree in Italian, she spent five years traveling and working in a variety of industries.  And then, in  2003, she followed her then-boyfriend Joshua Faudem to Tel Aviv to make a documentary called Blues by the Beach about how life can be normal in Israel.  Fleischer said of the experience, “Together we were commissioned to make a film about a small bar on the beachfront of Tel Aviv, Mike’s Place.  Two weeks into filming I was there with a camera when a bomb exploded in the bar, so obviously the whole intention of making a film about the happy side of Israel went in a different direction.”  Her next project was The Pied Piper of Hutzovina.

The Pied Piper follows Hutz as he journeys from Carpathian Gypsy camps (with lots of footage of children dancing) to cosmoplitian cities like Kiev and Moscow.  Once Fleischer gets a handle on how to proceed with the film, it plays as a fairly straightforward travelogue, with musical accompaniment from Hutz.  With a brisk running time of a 63 minutes, even the moments thats drag are short lived.  Eugene Hutz is always “performing” (which seems to be at the center of his charm and infectiousness) and the film certainly serves as a good introduction to him as the personality and spirit at the center of Gogol Bordello.

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I know I am late to the whole gypsy-punk movement of Gogol Bordello.  I had read that Tom Morello was a fan (he was the one responsible for hooking the band up with uber-producer Rick Rubin) and had heard a bit of their music in passing.  But then I heard this interview with Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz on NPR’s Fresh Air in December and decided to find out some more about Hutz.  This doc from 2004 was my first step.

To watch the preview – Click HERE

To buy a copy of the film – click HERE

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Reporter: “Are you a mod or a rocker?”

Ringo: “I’m a mocker.”

  • From the press conference scene in A Hard Day’s Night

 

MTV: “You’re the Father of MTV.”

Lester: “I demand a blood test!”

  • Richard Lester (director of A Hard Day’s Night)

You could call A Hard Day’s Night a feature-length music video.  Or a musical fantasia on pop stardom—Beatlemania filtered through the lens of the French new wave.  This is what we get from Richard Lester’s 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night – a faux day-in–the-life of The Beatles.  Filmed in black & white, it was an artistic and commercial success.  Before the film even opened, United Artists had already made their investment back from soundtrack sales.  The film was embraced by audiences, from the intelligentsia who could deconstruct it, to the casual fan who just wanted to see John, Paul, George and Ringo sing some songs like Can’t Buy Me Love.

The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, was very careful about who was approved to work with The Beatles.  He had signed them to a three-film deal with United Artists just before The Beatles blew-up with their appearance of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963.  United Artists had no idea how long the phenomena would last so they were eager to cash in while they could.  The Beatles wanted the film to be different from other pop music films of the time.  Director Richard Lester, an American living in England, had done a short film with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan called Running Jumping & Standing Still.  It was the style and tone of this short that led The Beatles to select Lester as the director for their film debut.  The script was written by Liverpool native Alun Owen, who was  able to craft dialogue that was natural for the boys.  The episodes of the film allowed The Beatles to do things they did in life.  Lester thought what was most important was that The Beatles were allowed to be natural; to be themselves.  And that is part of the film’s success.  People also loved the music.

The plot exists only as a frame to hold the many episodes.  Sure we have the Wilfrid Brambell as Paul’s “other” grandfather subplot (I started to view him as almost a Mephistopheles like presence in the background but I think that was just me).  Basically all we are asked to do is to follow the John, Paul, George, and Ringo (playing themselves) as the band is running around and preparing to appear on a television special.  It is one big episodic romp . . . with musical numbers.

The filming of A Hard Day’s Night was completed on a compressed schedule – the film began shooting in March 1964 and was released to the public in July of that same year.  When the completed film was shown to United Artists executives there was total silence in the room.  A former UA executive said, “No one knew what to make of it.  Then [UA executive] Bob Benjamin said, “I don’t know what that was about, but I think we’re going to make a lot of money.”  Film critic Andrew Sarris has called A Hard Day’s Night “the Citizen Kane of jukebox movies”.  That about sums it up.

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To watch the preview – Click HERE

to buy a copy of the film – click HERE

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“When I listen to Nirvana, I hear [New Order’s] Ceremony bass line on quite a few of those songs.  So I’d have to say, yes, we are the missing link between the Beatles and Nirvana.” – Peter Hook on the influence of Joy Division and New Order

According to former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook, the documentary Joy Division is “the perfect answer” to Anton Corbijn’s feature film Control (both titles are available on DVD from the Weinstein’s ‘The Miriam Collection’).  Directed by Grant Gee (Meeting People Is Easy) and written by music journalist Jon Savage, this is the story of Joy Division, not just Ian Curtis.  Jon Savage said that “Rather than reduplicate Anton Corbijn’s focus on Ian Curtis, we decided to root Joy Division in their time and place.”  And Manchester is indeed one of the major stars of the documentary.  One of the first voices we hear is Factory Records’ Tony Wilson saying “This is not the story of a pop group, this is the story of a city.” 

The film follows the four year evolution of Joy Division.  The film is bookended  with the Sex Pistols June 1976 Manchester show and Ian Curtis’s May 1980 death.  We get a  good mix of stories about the music and about the people who made the music possible.  Gee uses a collection of TV clips of performances, along with still photographs to tell Joy Division’s story.   He also gives us the expected interviews with the surviving members of the band: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris.  We have Tony Wilson who was filmed before he passed away in 2007.  We get to hear about genius producer Martin Hannett’s use of the digital delay which “changed the drum sound forever.”  Listen to Unknown Pleasures again.  Hannett took each element of sound and gave it its own space, allowing each sound’s texture to come through.  It was Hannett’s vision that helped make Joy Division what they were.  He took what the band was in his mind and made it into sound we could all hear.  And these are just some of the voices that tell the story (in the extras on the DVD are an additional forty or so interviews that were not used in the film).

One additional voice we hear is that of photographer Kevin Cummins.  He says his shots of Joy Division in their rehearsal space seem like photos of “a resistance movement through art.”  On shooting the band in b/w instead of color, “I’d be wasting money.  Publications that were prepared to feature the band only published in black & white.”  It is interesting to think about the fact that Joy Division ended before it really began which is part of why we see the band in black & white.  If Curtis had not committed suicide and the band had gone on their American tour as planned, out visual perspective of this band might be drastically different.

Ian’s widow Deborah does not appear in the documentary at all.  She said of the documentary, “I didn’t want to be filmed so they’ll use some extracts from my book instead.  It’s going to be both a funny and moving documentary with some lovely footage of the people in Ian’s life.”

For those of you who have no interest in Manchester music, Factory Records, or Joy Division, you’ll be glad to know that this marks the end of these postings (at least for the time being).  For me, however, Manchester music of the 70s, and Joy Division in particular, was both interesting and groundbreaking.  The musicians of that era took what was familiar and known about music and looked at it in a completely different way.  The result was music that continues to be timeless.  Joy Division was the product of record label that was as much an experiment as much as it was a company.  And, at the end of the day, Joy Division went from being four lads who saw the Sex Pistols and thought they could do the same…to a musical phenomenon in their own right, with the help of Hannett and Factory Records.  As Tony Wilson said, “Someone had to say more than ‘Fuck You’, someone was going to need to say ‘I’m fucked’…Joy Division used the energy and simplicity of punk to express more complex emotions and they were the first band to do that.”



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“Music videos are . . . they’re little hobbies, in a way.”  – Anton Corbijn, photographer, director of the films Control and The American, and director of music videos

Echo and the Bunnymen’s Seven Seas

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Following are comments about Anton from musicians he has worked with…

“He’s the visual part of Depeche Mode.” – Dave Gahan, lead singer of Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence music video

Depeche Mode’s Behind the Wheel

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“Comes closer to what I see in mind than any other video.” – Kurt Cobain

Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box

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“At certain points it felt like Anton was part of our band . . . he was an outsider who became an insider. ” – Bono

U2’s One

Photograph for U2’s The Joshua Tree

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“Anton has never taken a bad picture, never.” – Michael Stipe, lead singer of REM (pictured below)

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to purchase a copy of the DVD click the cover

To visit Anton Corbijn’s website to look at more of his work – click HERE

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