Thursday, July 06, 2006


Kill Your Idols/Urbanscapes*

Rock documentaries work best without heavily mythologizing (the critique now being leveled at Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man), and instead focusing on how the iconization of musical expression becomes a platform for ideas, whether or not they were intended as such. S.A. Crary’s Kill Your Idol falls into the latter camp, noting that the alluring contradiction of the No Wave movement is that it insisted on carte blanche expression but still adheres to standards of creativity. A gruff blend of loud noises and jagged performance tactics, No Wave emerged primarily in lower Manhattan during the late 1970s as a knee-jerk reaction to more conventional punk rock and commercial pop. Crary offers plenty of live footage for the uninitiated, with precious performances by landmark stage screamers Suicide, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and others. Early in the film, the fierce montage featuring these concerts overrides the need for coherent storytelling, but in a sense, it’s a reasonable way to let the harsh sound settle in.

The greatest prize is seeing how eloquent the aging musicians are during interviews. Unfortunately, with the exception of occasional archival footage, Crary’s technique relies solely on letting his subjects speak, then providing imagery to underscore their point— in one ongoing discussion, No Wave darling Lydia Lunch scolds the new local rockers for relying on the homogenized combination of drums, guitar and bass, urging them to “pick up a tuba!” Cut to the image of a tuba, and so on. This approach to documentary construction can get tired quickly, and it does; fortunately, Lunch and her cohorts are loads of fun, the brand of which defies structural limitations. In other words, no wave, no boundaries.

Through no direct fault of its own, Kill Your Idol feels dated during its exploration of the contemporary rock scene. The setting is 2002, and the film has only now, in the wake of its Tribeca screening, received theatrical distribution. Consequently, interviews with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the Lower East Side and ruminations from local New Yorkers about The Strokes, two bands that have since exponentially increased their corporatized image and betrayed more than a few fans, both serve to illuminate the argument put forth that the future of rock has died—for now, at least. Now that’s an inconvenient truth.

Less progressive and more ponderous but equally esoteric is Urbanscapes, which could also be called Kill Your Edifice. There’s no story, per se, but certainly there is a myth in this slight avant-garde exploration of how classic American landscapes are in the process of gradually being demolished. The filmmakers, Lorena Luciano and Filipo Piscopo, employ a technique implemented by Jay Leyda in his 1931 experiment A Bronx Morning: a series of slow pans across architecture (in this case, awe-inspiring colorful shots from across the country) glorifies a building’s unique place in the universe, which here serves to tell a sob story. While never consistently compelling, Urbanscapes has a dreamlike quality that rewards patient viewers. It blends its scenery shots with talking heads who live in and around the structures, one of whom claims that the archaic building designs “guide your mind,” an entrancing argument that, sadly, would never hold up in court.

*Versions of these reviews were published this week in the New York Press.


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