Thursday, October 23, 2008
The Weinstein Company’s Miriam Collection has quietly been carving out a niche market, putting out some films and documentaries aimed at music fans. A couple of months back they released a documentary (which first appeared on PBS on American Masters), Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, about the folk legend. Just recently I caught a few of their other noteworthy offerings. Lou Reed's Berlin is a concert film by director Julian Schnabel . It captures Reed as he performs his 1973 album, Berlin, live for the first time, backed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, in Brooklyn, New York, in 2006. The depressing album, a commercial failure in the U.S. during its initial release, has grown to be considered one of Reed’s best, if still least accessible. It tells the story of a couple on a downward drug-addled spiral. Schnabel shoots it as if Reed were one half of the couple, now older and performing a requiem for Caroline, its ill fated other half, occasionally superimposing grainy home-movie-like footage of actress Emmanuelle Seigner, whenever referring to the woman. If you’re a fan of Reed’s you’ll definitely be drawn in. But for those unfamiliar with his cutting songs, this may not be the best performance to introduce Reed by. However, the three additional songs he performs at the end of the film, not on the Berlin album, are pretty impressive. Starting with a truly showstopping performance of “Candy Says,” in which Antony of Antony and the Johnsons provides a heartbreaking backup vocal, then gliding into “Rock Minuet,” before ending with “Sweet Jane,” the DVD may be worth purchasing for those final 20-minutes alone. Control is the debut film by former rock photographer and video director Anton Corbijn. The biopic covers the last seven years in the tragic life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the short-lived but influential Joy Division. The screenplay is based on his wife Deborah’s book Touching from a Distance, and depicts the singers epilepsy, his affair with Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), his estrangement from Deborah (Samantha Morton), and his eventual suicide which the film implies may have been due to depression caused by the huge amounts of prescriptions he had to take to quell his seizures. Newcomer Sam Riley remarkably revives the ghost of Curtis in his strong performance. Not only does he capture the external haunted blankness of the man, but he vividly gyrates about the stage in his concerts as the real-life Curtis was distinctly known to. And the actors perform all of the music themselves while still doing the original band justice. Control’s stark black and white cinematography, coupled with the tableau-like mise-en-scène, evokes the old photographs Corbijn himself took of the group in their brief heyday. The film may also be the first I accuse of being too accurate in its storytelling. It occasionally gives the sense of the players going through the motions with a dispassionate inevitability. This might be the point, though, as Corbijn recreates the same blank sterility that one feels in the aura of mystery surrounding Curtis, a talented man lost too soon. For a warmer look at the band, the documentary, Joy Division, makes for a great second-bill of a double feature. Director Grant Gee speaks to all of the surviving band members, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris, about many of the same anecdotes that appear in Control. There are live performances throughout, as well as an interview with Annik Honoré about the time she spent with the band and late singer, Curtis. Covering their time together from the early days, when they were known as Warsaw, to Curtis’ suicide on the eve of their first American tour, and their reformation as the group New Order, Joy Division fills in the blanks that Control leaves open. It is an electrifying assessment of a band whose time in the public eye was fleeting yet significant. Stills provided courtesy of Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.