Back in 2012, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary Searching for Sugar Man explored undersung recording artist Rodriguez, a Detroit-born singer-songwriter. More specifically, the film looked at the unusual degree of success and influence his music exerted in apartheid-era South Africa. Its framing device sees two South African Rodriguez fans in the late 1990s journey to find out what happened to this relatively obscure musician in light of his studio album output ending in the 1970s.
The set-up of Gio Arlotta’s music documentary, WITCH, is certainly not identical to that of Bendjelloul’s film, but the rhythms of the editing bear a strong resemblance and it does also concern a small group’s pilgrimage to track down a musical titan from the 1970s that they want to bring to more people’s attention. That the journey of the film effectively starts in 2014, only two years after Sugar Man’s success, makes an intentional influence seem plausible…
Full review for Little White Lies
From David Fincher to Jonathan Glazer, some of the most acclaimed modern directors began their careers making music videos. Here’s what their first films looked like…
Full feature for the BFI
Time has been kind to Josie and the Pussycats. Long before the fictional rock band featured in TV’s Riverdale, their Archie Comics source material was brought to the big screen in 2001. Writer-director duo Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait) were at the helm, with Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid cast as band members Josie, Valerie and Melody, respectively, and the glorious scenery-chewing pair of Parker Posey and Alan Cumming as antagonists. But there was a twist.
While operating perfectly well as a sincerely heartfelt tale of friendship in the face of growing fame, the film is also a feature-length jab at the industries behind its existence, skewering consumerism, subliminal advertising, and the very notion of adapting a comic into a movie. Josie is an indelible early 2001 time capsule, but it also feels of a piece with the later meta stylings of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie also walk a fine line between enthusiastic adaptation of an intellectual property and more cynically questioning their very existence. Comparing it to closer contemporaries, it’s something like Spice World meets Zoolander…
Full feature for Dazed
The spirit of executive producer Danny Boyle looms large over Creation Stories, a biopic of Scottish businessman Alan McGee, whose influential Creation Records label launched such acts as Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. Trainspotting seems a conscious influence on director Nick Moran’s film, from the editing style and frenetic pacing to Irvine Welsh being one of its screenwriters. The presence of Ewen Bremner as McGee only hammers home the connection.
But there’s another filmmaker looming over Creation Stories. Someone who also made a largely comedic, self-reflexive biopic concerning a British record label head who was inspired by seeing Sex Pistols perform, which covered a similar period of time: Michael Winterbottom. Speeding through three decades’ worth of events but lacking any actual momentum, Creation Stories is like a version of 24 Hour Party People gone horribly wrong…
Full review for Little White Lies
In a Spin magazine interview marking the 20th anniversary of his band’s 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic, The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne was asked about their involvement with the soundtrack for Batman Forever, an album described by interviewer Dan Weiss as, “Even by ‘90s standards… one of the weirdest batches of artists.” Coyne – reportedly not a fan of the finished film itself, though he enjoyed his group’s aural appearance – had this to say:
“I think it set up a blueprint that you could really have an interesting soundtrack that really doesn’t have that much to do with the movie and people would accept it. It was just a record that had another branding that went with it. I thought that was really a cool move, that it didn’t always just have to be a group of popular artists doing something to promote the movie. It really was a weird mixtape collection that had a movie with it too.”Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips
A packed film soundtrack of popular music wasn’t a concept born in the 1990s, nor is it something that’s completely died out since, but various factors have led to that decade being the peak ‘music from the motion picture’ era, and how Coyne describes the Batman Forever soundtrack is reflective of why. And in the year 2020, Batman Forever’s album stands out as one of its decade’s most emblematic musical artefacts for how it both followed trends and also bucked the system in a way that arguably influenced the construction of soundtracks going forward; Entertainment Weekly ran a non-review article the summer of release on the extent to which the soundtrack was an outlier among its field…
Full article for The Companion
Following Shell (2012) and Iona (2015), Run sees writer-director Scott Graham return to exploring characters in another relatively isolated Scottish community, this time his own hometown of Fraserburgh, a fishing town in the country’s far northeast. “I’m never sure how people from my home town are going to feel about it,” Graham says. “I think they would be the first to recognise it’s not an easy place to live.”
Speaking to us at the Glasgow Film Festival, where Run had a Scottish premiere a few weeks before its UK-wide release, Graham mentions a few audience members had travelled down from Fraserburgh to see the film early: “They seemed to really like it. They were very complimentary to the cast on the work they’d done on the local dialect.”
A feature-length expansion of one of Graham’s earlier shorts, Run is rooted in both the specificities of its Scottish setting and certain anxieties informed by American culture. It explores the malaise of thirtysomething Finnie (Mark Stanley), who has an increasingly fraught relationship with his two sons and wife Katie (Amy Manson), who was his teenage sweetheart – the pair have tattoos quoting Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’…
Full interview for the BFI
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love documents the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse, Marianne Ihlen, their love having begun on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s, as part of a bohemian community of artists from multiple fields. Director Nick Broomfield, with the aid of footage from fellow documentarian D.A. Pennebaker that was shot during that period, explores their connection from those early days on the island to how it evolved when Leonard went on to become a successful musician. Theirs was a love story that would continue for the rest of their lives, albeit not in a form where they were in any sort of committed relationship beyond that time on Hydra, with the pair dying three months apart in 2016.
Broomfield is known for being more present in his works than many other documentarians tend to be. In the case of Words of Love, there’s a particularly good reason for it. In 1968, a young Broomfield, then aged 20, went to Hydra and met and formed his own bond with Ihlen, who first introduced him to Cohen’s music and also encouraged him to make his first film…
Full interview for The List
With Nick Broomfield’s documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, an in-depth look at the relationship between Leonard Cohen and muse Marianne Ihlen, playing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this month and on general release in July, we thought it an appropriate time to highlight some of our favourite Cohen needle drops in cinema.
Whether with his own voice or through cover versions, many films and TV shows have made stirring use of Cohen’s music, though there is no instance in which the songs in question were written with the intention of featuring in that movie or episode.
For inclusion in the small selection below, we’ve stuck to the following criteria: feature films only, one entry per song, and Cohen recordings only, not covers of his work…
Full feature for The Skinny
From Bronson and Valhalla Rising to Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has a reputation for filtering all sorts of reference points, from cinema or other artforms, into movies that never quite feel like anything else out there, even if it might initially seem clear what you’re going to get from a surface glance.
The director’s passion for the idiosyncratic recently extended to the world of digital media with byNWR.com, where an exclusive film – a restored lost gem with little to no previous cultural legacy – is presented each month as a jumping off point to inspire creativity. Although film and the moving image takes up the bulk of the venture’s content right now, the site is moving into music. And not only music, but music festival collaborations.
As part of this year’s Black Deer Festival in Kent, a specially-curated trilogy of films will be presented for the first time in a new form, under the banner of byNWR Expressway. In keeping with the spirit of the Americana and country music-focused festival, each film harks back to America’s drive-in heyday…
Full interview for The Line of Best Fit
Set in Scotland in 1994, Beats follows two teenage best friends, Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), heading out for one final night together at an illegal rave before life takes them in different directions. Johnno’s family, encouraged by his de facto stepfather Robert (Brian Ferguson), are due to move to a newly built house in the distant suburbs. Spanner’s prospects, meanwhile, look next to zero in the context of local poverty and his relationship with his abusive criminal brother, Fido (Neil Leiper).
Directed and co-written by Brian Welsh, Beats is adapted from Kieran Hurley’s acclaimed one-man stage show, which presented converging stories in the wake of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’s impact on rave culture. Section 63 of that act gave law enforcement the power to stop any gatherings of more than 20 people in open air settings when listening to music, “Wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”
There’s an end of an era quality to the film’s portrayal of the 90s scene, and while raving didn’t disappear after 1994, the rest of the decade saw a form of it move into the more corporate club scene, heavy on brand image, where the experience, as influenced by those changes in the law, became more homogenised…
Full interview for the BFI