Entries tagged with “music documentary”.


North Korea may be the most talked and the lesser known country of the planet. (it may compete with Israel for these titles but for very different reasons) It’s a closed and supervised nation which is practically disconnected from the rest of the world, and who let itself be filmed very seldom, by few people and in a well filtered manner. ‘Laibach’ is an anarchist band of metal rock from Slovenia, which had its peak moment of glory more than three decades ago when it brought its contribution to the fall of the Iron Curtain and of the Communism system and dismantling of the country that was known for much of the 20th century as Yugoslavia. The two came together in the summer of 2015 in an incredible event which can be of huge importance or can be just a footnote in history. The first concert of a Western (or at least European) rock band in North Korea. Until history decides about the importance of the event, we have this documentary film named Liberation Day which I have seen in the last screening of the DocAviv International Documentary Film Festival in Tel Aviv.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5847760

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5847760

 

Watching this film is a multi-layered experience. We see a door semi-open, or a crack in a wall of mis-communication or lack of communication – I think these words or some similar are being used in the film – to a closed world. But we also know that not all could be filmed, and not everything was shown to the guests. While the members of the band and the team that came with them seem to buy into much of what is being served to them, there is a lot that is not being said that needs to be taken into consideration. After all, the members of the Laibach band not only came originally from a similar political system, maybe not that extreme, but based on the same principles, but also fought against it, and contributed – with their music and public attitude – to their fall. So the question can be asked – why did they accept the censorship and the rules of engagement defined by their hosts? Were they manipulated? The answer is not simple and the ambiguous quote that opens the film describes their approach – any form of art (in their opinion) has its component of propaganda and manipulation.

(Yes, indeed, but dosing differs.)

 

(video source Dogwoof)

 

Some of the images in the film are memorable. The beginning brings together crowds on stadiums gathered for rock concerts (in the West) or for big propaganda shows (in North Korea) and suggests a parallel. The huge statues of the Korean rulers and the ceremonies of bringing flowers and bowing to the monuments are impressive, even if one may disagree with the message that is being conveyed. Some of the situations shown on screen – censorship, controlled performances with selected audiences – are familiar for somebody who lived under the Communist system.  Other look simply surrealistic. The music of Laibach and the deep voice of the soloist remember us again on the background that what is important is the art and that its message needs not be explicit. A rock band concert in North Korea is an event. This film is an event. Viewers need to take this film as an open exercise and do their own reading.

Music documentaries can be fascinating in many cases. This is the case of The Music of Strangers, the documentary produced and directed by which tells the story of the wonderful musical adventure and inter-culture experience which is ‘The Silk Road’ ensemble and organization started in 1998 by the famous cellist .

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt3549206/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt3549206/

 

The documentary deals both with the initial phases of the project (based on filmed material from their first encounters around the year 2000) and its later evolution. While the value of the cultural interaction is quite well presented, there is less mention if at all about the novelty of the approach of gathering together artists with very different backgrounds and having them play music in a fusion mode that was maybe acceptable in jazz, but much less in classical music where many of them (including Yo-Yo Ma) came from. Actually Ma is a pioneer from this perspective, using his almost pop star reputation to bring classical music to the wider audiences, but also the music of people and peoples to the classical musicians world.

 

(video source Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films)

 

There is no central story telling in the film which mainly builds itself by the interleaved personal stories told by Yo-Yo Ma and a few of the musicians, their own perspective about the work in the the ensemble, the interaction with other musicals, and their philosophies about the scope and the benefits of the project. We have the opportunity to meet Chinese lute virtuous  and hear her speaking about the challenges of learning and making music in China immediately after the Cultural Revolution, and Spanish bagpiper  about building her path as a woman artist in a less developed area of Spain,  we see Syrian clarinetist  talking about his feelings about making music while his country is torn by war, and Iranian musician  telling the story of his family broken by the political situation in his country and by exile. Most of all we see their opening to dialog and artistic collaboration, their passion of talking and especially playing music. A few of the meetings, concerts, family reunions and activities of volunteering with refugees are caught also on record.Watching them is a fascinating and beautiful cultural and musical experience.

 

We know about the great musicians of the past only from written stories if they lived and played until the end of the 19th century. We can only imagine and read the stories of the contemporaries about the sound of the violin of Paganini, or the piano under the hands of Chopin or Liszt. Sound recordings started to be available at the end of the 19th century, and film rendition soon after, with film and sound synchronized since the end of the 20s. The great advantage of the artists playing today is that their music is available – if they allow, of course – for the times to come on recordings and films. More recently their lives and careers became also subject of documentary movies. Form now on not only their music but also their lives, characters, loves, families crisis can be documented for the posterity – if they allow so (or even if the do not, I guess).

 

source welltempered.wordpress.com

source welltempered.wordpress.com

 

 

I have seen three of them recently, all made in the last two years. The first was the closest to the traditional documentary genre retracing the life and career of the Hungarian-born conductor George Solti. The second one focused on how the Chinsese pianist Lang Lang grew up under the strong influence of his father and how he built a world-famous career starting from the very improbable career of a Chinese workers one-child family. Today I have seen Bloody Daughter, the documentary that Stephanie Argerich dedicated to her mother, the famous Argentinian pianist.

 

(video source EuroArtsChannel)

 

If somebody wanted a proof that it is practically impossible to live the life of a great artist and build a normative family with happy partners and children, Bloody Daughter is certainly one. Stephanie is the younger of the three daughters that Martha Argerich had with three different partners, and much of the film is dedicated into bringing together the pieces of the biography of a pianist who was another of these wonder children, raised and educated to be an artist – but also a beautiful woman, with a strong and unconventional character who decided to live her life as she wished to, placing her career at the highest priority. She is also a woman who does not have much of verbal communication skills, so although there is a lot of private footage of her on screen she talks very little about her art (and no great wisdom results) or even about her private life or feelings – we understand more from her looks, her facial expression, her eyes.

 

(video source mmoynan)

 

(video source DieVogelQDU)

 

Stephanie Argerich wanted this film to be not only about her mother but also about herself, her feelings, the relationship with her mother. There are implicit questions that she seems to want to ask her but never dares to. The puzzle of the family relations is carefully built in the first hour of the film, with the story of each one of the three daughters retraced and brought to its place. I would have personally wanted to dig more into the Jewish past of the family, but this seems to be a subject that neither Stephanie, nor Martha queried too much – maybe this is not that important to them, something buried in the past of Martha’s parents for unknown reasons never asked about. The last third of the movie does not bring too many new and interesting information about the great artist, and instead of the redundant family footage more music would have been preferable. Of course, this is just a personal opinion, but it might be shared by the many of us who love her art.

 

 

If this story happened in the USA it would have been labelled as the American Dream story. An Italian immigrant comes to the new country with his three kids. A few years later he receives citizenship. The younger of the children dreams to become a movie star. He starts to sing in clubs, enjoys some success, tries doing movies, it’s a failure, does more music for another two decades, then returns to the big screens. He becomes one of the most successful singers AND actors of his generation, a symbol of the new country. He is even considered to have good chances to be elected president. A success story. It’s just that it did not happen in the USA but in France. A French Dream and Success Story. The name is Ivo Levi, better known as Yves Montand. My cousin who knows it all or almost says that the name was given to kid Ivo by his friends in Marseille who were laughing at his mother shouting to him ‘Ivo, monta!’ when he was too late getting back home.

 

source avaxhome.ws

source avaxhome.ws

 

Patrick Rotman‘s TV documentary brings to screen the biography of Yves Montand. It may look like an easy task, as Montand was filmed copiously on stage, on screen, in his private and public life, so there was plenty of material to chose from. It is also a challenge for the documentary director as he has to filter the material, assemble it and give it a chance to become a portrait and a story. The story of the life of a big artist, but one that demands respect without becoming adulatory, one that presents the disputable aspects of the biography (and there have been a few of these as well) without falling into cheap sensationalist. One that leaves us with the complete story and portrait of the man and of the artist. While choosing a conservative chronological way of describing the biography and the work of Montand, Rotman in my opinion succeeded, he stood well by the challenge. His portrait of Montand is interesting, the story is well told, no (important) skeletons stay in the closet (maybe with the exception of the old age parenting dispute), and the film is interesting to watch and listen to. To his credit most of the songs figuring in the film are not yet on youTube so there is one more reason for the fans of Montand’s music to look for this film and see it in cinemas (if possible) or on the net (if available).

 

(video source CulturClub France)

 

The almost two hours of projection allow the time to develop the story of the rags-to-Olympia career of the singer which passes through the encounter with Edith Piaf, of the love story of almost a life with Simone Signoret, of the crisis of their relationship when Marylin Monroe interfered. Most interesting however were for me the episodes related to the political engagement of Montand. The singer and the actor was what the Communists call ‘a road companion’ or even a little more than that, playing into the hands of the Communists and the Soviets until and including the year 1956, when he went to a triumphal tour in Moscow, Leningrad and other East Block cities right after the Soviet bloody crushing of the Hungarian anti-communist revolution. His direct contact with the realities beyond the Iron Curtain were however also a trigger to his awaking, He not only realized the lies of the Soviet system, but also departed from the tradition of his family (his father had become a Communist in opposition of Mussolini in his native Italy, his brother was a Communist and a syndicalist leader).  Starting with 1968, the year of the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia Yves Montand became an active fighter for human rights against all totalitarian systems, left or right. He opposed dictatorship in Greece, Argentine and Chile, but also the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and he supported the movements for democracy in Poland and Czechoslovakia which eventually led to the fall of the Wall in Berlin and of the Iron Curtain in Europe. In the 80s he sang in Israel in support of the fight to allow free immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union.

 

(video source Anna Screengazer)

 

The best parts in the film are however the musical ones, with a lot of original and well documented clips from the early periods of Montand’s career, including the concerts on Broadway in 1960 which fulfilled his dream (and possibly the dream of his parents) to reach the shores of America and be successful there. The film career of Montand seems a little bit neglected relative to the musical one, Montand was a huge actor, but we are shown too few and told only scarce things about his film career. The magic of stage seems to have conquered director Rotman, and he succeeds to pass it to the viewers, at the expense of other dimensions of the personality of the artist. Yet there is much in this film that is worth seeing and much to learn and love about the personality of Montand. If you are not already in love with him you have good chances to fall under the spell of Ivo Livi dit Yves Montand after having seen this film.

I am using these days of vacation to catch back with a huge log of reading books and seeing films accumulated during the year. I will of course be able to clear up only a fraction of them. Among these are a few music documentary films, and the first one was Robert Muggee’s Gospel According to Al Green made in 1984.

 

source http://www.kalamu.com/bol/2008/08/11/al-green-%E2%80%9Clay-it-down%E2%80%9D/

 

This film is an interesting snapshot of a career that spins already for almost half a century. Born in Arkansas in 1946, Green made to himself a name since the mid-60s on the scene of soul music, which enjoyed a great success and was promoted widely, nationally in the US and internationally together with other trends (like pop, rock and folk) of the musical revolution of the ‘flower power’ generation.

 

(video source misclasicos)

 

Of the material available on youTube Take me to the River (one of the best known of his own compositions) seems a good example of the type of music Al Green was singing at that time – rhythmic, sensual, charismatic R&B and soul.

 

(video source jamaisledimanche)

 

And then, in 1974 the change happened. A personal life incident (described by Green in the documentary film in a different version than the one recorded by other sources like the Wikipedia entry dedicated to the singer) triggered a process of returning to religion, and in only a couple of year we see Green becoming a reverend and buying his own church (this is also described in the documentary).

More and more gospel takes precedence in his records and performances. From this period here is Jesus is Waiting, a fascinating rendition, about which I will quote two comments from youTube, which reflect the mix of spirituality and musical fascination that was felt by his fans and followers:

- as a lifetime atheist, this is the closest ive ever been to god

- That’s the sexiest Lords Prayer I have ever heard lol!


(video source eubank12)

 

The documentary itself includes testimonies by Al Green’s musical partners about his beginnings, about the road to success, and his transformation from a soul to a gospel artist. The musical parts are recorded in one of his performances at a military base, and in his own church in Memphis – and this is certainly the most interesting part, as it documents how music becomes part of the religious discourse and ceremonies, and how the word gospel truly merges and combines its two meanings.

From this period Amazing Grace is one of the good exemplifications.

 

(video source dtvmusic)

 

As I said the film was made in 1984, at a time when his life was mostly dedicated to religion and as a singer he was singing only gospel. More than a quarter of century later we know however that as his career continued, Green returned to some of his non-religious songs, in a tentative to regain some of the success of his younger years. Here he is still introduced as ‘reverend Al Green working the crowds in a televised show in 2010, singing one of his initial successes Let’s Stay Together (a love ballad), with a voice that sounds amazingly young.

The 1984 film catches Green at a point in his evolution, which did not follow exactly the expected track. Asked in the film how he sees his life and career 20 or 30 years later, he predicts an universal acceptance of the gospel, and him as a priest of it. It is however more to the non-religious soul music that he is still known today, while the religious fulfillment did not disappear but was pushed back more to the space of his private life.