Feb. 10, 2010 - Issue #747: Abnormal Growth
One hell of a Parties
Doc looks back at the unique style of independent music festAll Tomorrow's Parties is a film that is focused in intention, but scattered in execution. That's not a criticism in any way—just a fact that comes along with this documentary that is credited to co-directors Jonathan Caouette and All Tomorrow's people. The film is constructed out of footage contributed by All Tomorrow's people—the music fans, some of whom were actually performers as well, who attended the festival over the decade since it grew out of the 1999 Belle & Sebastian-curated Bowlie Weekender festival. The resulting All Tomorrow's Parties festival finds a new artist curating each year's version, with this film coming off as something like a greatest hits set curated by Caouette, utilizing footage taken on equipment as varied as camcorders, Super 8 film and mobile phones.
And with a decade of performances to draw on, Caouette pulls together some impressive performances, with highlights coming from the likes of the Dirty Three, Grinderman, Gossip, the Stooges and Japanese experimentalist group Boredoms up on the stage, while others seem to appear spontaneously within the resort where fans and musicians share accommodations—art-school-project-birthed Lightning Bolt blasts through a performance in the resort's courtyard with an audience crowded around the group, the dividing lines between performer and audience blurred.
That blurring of lines seems to be what both the film and the festival are about, as evidenced by the use of found footage to attempt to recreate—in feel, at least—the underground, life-in-the-moment experience of the festival. Music films tend to take an approach that lies along a spectrum where the music either takes a backseat to a larger story or a set of songs are presented a straightforward concert presentation. All Tomorrow's Parties is an interesting compromise, using some performances nearly in full while others appear only in snippets throughout, creating a nearly constant soundtrack to accompany the widely varied footage. With no defining narrative around which the film can revolve—not surprising considering the number of years being covered—the action unfolds to the soundtrack, offering glimpses into what appears to be a world where the music is unfettered by commercial interests, existing instead as fleeting moments of creation which take place during impromptu performances just as often as they do onstage.
(Indeed, one scene finds a fan so overwhelmed by Boredoms' performance that he races off in search of the band to tell the group just how much it meant for him to be there during the process of creation.)
Archival footage of Patti Smith recurs throughout the film, the punk poetess stating her goal of returning rock 'n' roll into the hands of the people before it became just another money-making tool for big business. Elsewhere, Warren Ellis of Dirty Three and Grinderman is caught on film during a telling conversation with Slint's David Pajo, the two men wide-eyed with awe over the music being conjured up all around them.
It's singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston who has one of the most revealing voices in the film, though. While Smith's voice calls for concentrated action in the name of rock 'n' roll and Ellis and Pajo are adoring fans of what those around them are doing, Johnston simply wants to play for the sake of making music, unconcerned with the venue itself. To that end, the musician performs on stage, in the courtyard, within his own room with the window open and a crowd gathered outside—wherever he can find a place. It's that spirit of independence, a willingness to create without regard for reward, that ultimately shines through in the film. V
All Tomorrow's Parties
Directed by Jonathan Caouette and All tomorrow's people
Starring Les Savy Fav, the Stooges, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Patti Smith and more
Out now on DVD
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