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Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011

on February 07, 2011, 3:00pm
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sundancethumb Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011For those of you unfamiliar with the About page here on our quaint little website,  the mission statement is included in the introductory paragraph. It reads: “Consequence of Sound (CoS) is a New York and Chicago-based online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.” It later goes on to say, “With a committed staff… CoS continues to successfully push its way ahead of the engaging and highly competitive new media market.” So from those two excerpts, we hope you gather two things specifically. We here at CoS are constantly striving to be a step ahead of the game, and completely devoted to music in all its varieties.

These two concepts led us to a place somewhat unexpected this year, Sundance Music Festival in Park City, Utah. Everyone knows the name Sundance. It’s the Film Festival in the U.S., where all the best and brightest filmmakers meet for a week and a half to showcase their art. But do they realize the importance? Maybe.

But in case they don’t, the festival started by Robert Redford (remember when he played Sundance in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid?) back in 1985 has been groundbreaking since its inception. Many filmmakers trace their big break back to Sundance. Most notably Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and Darren Aronofsky. Many films that have become heralded as  ”cult classics” among film buffs debuted at Sundance originally. Among them, Clerks, The Blair Witch Project, Little Miss Sunshine, Reservoir Dogs, Bottle Rocket, American Psycho, Donnie Darko, SLC Punk, Memento, Super Troopers, 28 Days Later, Garden State, Saw, and Napoleon Dynamite. Like we said, the best and brightest.

What you also may not know about Sundance, is that it also has a rich music history that keeps expanding annually. Every year, more and more musicians will either try their hand at filmmaking, debut a documentary, endorse a biopic, or actually perform.

sundance5 Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011

The festival wrapped up Sunday night, and what a week it was. CoS was able to send Staff Writer Winston Robbins in for an exclusive look at this year’s festival, but not everything could be covered due to a lack of manpower/the utter chaos that is Park City during Sundance. For a complete list of musically-themed films that CoS was jazzed about, read here. Otherwise, enjoy the shots and reviews of CoS‘s trip to Utah, and revel in the fact that your favorite artists are breaking ground in the film industry.

Live Performances

sundance4 Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011

As always, Sundance plays host to a number of exclusive events with appearances by acclaimed performers. This year’s opening party, as it were, was graced with a surprise performance by Snoop Dogg and Lil’ Jon. As the week progressed, smaller events were held all over Park City and Salt Lake City in honor of Sundance. You think club promoters would pass up a chance to get out-of-staters into their bars? No way. SLC’s Urban Lounge takes the cake, playing host to Tennis, RJD2, and Little Dragon over the course of the festival.

On top of that, Danny Masterson (who you might remember looking like this), who owns a club called The Downstairs in Park City, threw a celebrity event headed by Slick Rick in honor of the festival. Even the Sundance organization themselves put together a solid lineup, with particularly hailed performances by Guster, Manchester Orchestra, K’naan, and St. Vincent.

Shorts Program I

sundance3 Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011What the hell is Shorts Program I, you ask? Oh, only the shorts program in which Beastie Boys decided they’d debut their eclectic hodge podge of a short comedy/music video.

Accompanied by a wide variety of other short films, Beastie Boys’ program was just a half hour set in a three-hour program. However, the short headlined the set of six films whose subjects were just as eclectic. From the claustrophobia accompanied by spending three months on a Russian submarine to what would happen if Tim and Eric of Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show lived in a trailer park, swore profusely, did meth, and gave birth to a mysteriously wise puppet.

But the highlight of the six short collection was without a doubt Fight For Your Right Revisited. Certainly filmed on the biggest budget, the film included a constant barrage of cameos from A-listers with main roles played by Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly. (Warning: Spoilers Ensue Below)

Picking right up where they left off in 1987, the film begins with a slow-motion exit from the party the B-Boys just crashed. Elijah Wood as Ad-Rock, Seth Rogen as Mike D, and Danny McBride as MCA make their way down the stairs out of the building where the party was being held, only to bump into the parents (played by Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon) and owners of the house they just destroyed with pies, booze, and sledgehammers. They feign ignorance and give the parents the slip, only to continue the party out on the street.

The boys, still hungry for partying/alcohol, break into a convenience store down the street to get more beer. Upon emerging from the store, beer in hand, the film starts leaning in the direction of music video. The boys drink/barrage the innocent bystanders with the cans of booze, all the while rhyming along to a brand new Beastie Boys’ song, “Make Some Noise”, presumably to be released on their upcoming Hotsauce Committee Pt. 2. From a film standpoint, this portion is delightful to watch, as it’s very physical improv comedy, and Elijah Wood might have very well been a Beastie in another life. Musically speaking, it only gets better. Beastie Boys haven’t sounded this raw or this cohesive in years. Maybe it was the scenery of the film, but the song felt like it was straight out of the early 90’s.

sundance1 Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011The boys continue to wreak havoc in the city, thrashing into a high-end restaurant, which is where the majority of the cameos happen. They are eventually thrown out, and sent back to the street, where they meet some metal-head girls, who offer them a ride in their limousine. The boys say they are the backing band for Bon Jovi, and the girls are so impressed they offer them some acid. After they all do a very tongue-in-cheek tribute to Bon Jovi, Will Ferrell is revealed as the limo driver and the song continues with a dance number involving Ferrell revisiting his true calling: the cowbell.

The boys leave the limo, hit the streets, but this time in an altered state – hilarity ensues, as does another new Beastie song, “Say It”. Eventually, the roads become inexplicably empty and a Delorean appears, carrying three individuals (Jack Black, John C. Reilly, and Will Ferrell) who claim they are the Beastie Boys from the future. When the original Beastie Boys call BS, the B-Boys from the future challenge them to a throwdown dance to decide who are the real Beastie Boys.

Each Beastie, present and future, gets his turn on the dance floor insulting his opposite in absurd/hilarious ways.  And what better music to hold a dance-off to than the Beastie Boys’ most recent drop, “Too Many Rappers”, which features Nas. When it comes time for Wood’s Ad-Rock to dance, John C. Reilly’s MCA becomes so infuriated that it becomes a literal pissing contest. All the boys, both old and new, begin to urinate on each other, which the police obviously has to stop. When they paddy wagon pulls up, who’s driving but none other than the actual Beastie Boys. After some police brutality, all six Beasties are arrested and driven away, and the film closes with the words “To Be Continued… Check Back In 25 Years.”

Sure, it’s a whimsical, nonsense story that certainly wasn’t destined to win any awards at Sundance, but it was no doubt the most fun anyone had during Shorts Program I. The acting crew signed on, surely, to pay tribute to one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all-time, and they did their job magnificently.

CoS Verdict: Fight For Your Right Revisited is non-stop fun, and worth every bit of your time. No word yet on what platform this will be released on, but once it is released, get your hands on a copy.

Submarine

o sundance 2011 review submarine Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011Dramedy is something of a worn out phrase. It’s even kind of a worn out genre. It was really effective for a while (Garden State and its ensuing cult; Academy Award-winning American Beauty; The Royal Tenenbaums and the Wes Anderson craze that followed, etc.), and still can be, but it’s a very hit or miss genre on the whole. To find that perfect balance of quirky comedic timing amidst a plot that is, for all intents and purposes, very depressing, is something that is rarely achieved, and attempted far too often.

Submarine, in that right, missed the mark. While it was one of the most popular films at Sundance, every screening full to the very brim with dozens of downtrodden being turned away, it was not one that I felt was very effective. Going in, it was a favorite for award night, but it came out empty-handed, which should speak volumes about not only the film, but the genre itself. The public really likes dramedy. But it absolutely has to be done right, and this particular film was missing a few key elements.

The quirkiness was there. Young actor Craig Roberts made his on-screen debut fearlessly, and played the part of the protagonist with promising poise. Also, the film captured the essence of first love wonderfully; the embarrassment, the confusion, the over-examination, the genuine heartache that seems so real in the moment, but years later means virtually nothing. Although his relationship with his girlfriend was awkwardly written and not well executed, the sentiment was there.

Where Submarine went wrong was in its pace. It’s a constant balancing act in this genre. You have to have moments of comedy that overrule the drama of the situation, and vice versa, and the writers/director did not achieve this very well. When the characters were faced with a very emotional, dramatic situation, there were attempts to correct the situation with comedy, but rarely if ever did they work correctly. Inversely, the quick, witty dialogue was sometimes overbearing, completely overpowering the weight of the situation.

Also, the metaphor was very transparent. The father described his depression as living underwater (much like a submarine), and the young protagonist was searching  for ways to pull his father out of the depths whilst getting himself out safely.

But who am I, Roger Ebert? I’m here to tell you about the music, not the pace of the film. And the music was exceptional. There simply could not have been a better soundtrack to this film. Between the subtle, yet fitting score done by Andrew Hewitt and the original songs by Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys), they reached complete zen.

Even those who came to see the film were intrigued by the soundtrack, and I heard chattering about the theatre afterward in its favor. If you haven’t ever had an encounter with Arctic Monkeys, you wouldn’t know that Alex Turner is one of the most talented lyricists in modern music, with a completely indistinguishable voice that’s immensely catchy.

For this particular set of songs, Turner has slowed the tempo to a near standstill, considering Arctic Monkeys are a band that largely go big with garage rock riffs and overactive drums. Allegedly, there were five original songs written for the film, though I counted six different pieces. Four of which were slow, cheery acoustic love songs (think “The Only Ones Who Know”) with just Turner and his guitar. Each of these four songs were beautiful in their own right, with lyricism that was spot on, not only with the mood of the film, but with the type of music he was performing.

The other two songs were a bit more Arctic Monkeys. The first brought to memory a young Morrissey. Played on an acoustic guitar, the lyrics were impeccable (much like that of Morrissey) and the dissonance of the song was somewhat depressing (yet again a familiar trait of Morrissey). The second, the closer to the film, included drums and a bass guitar while still maintaining that acoustic sound and soft vocal base.

I don’t know how the film will fair. I don’t see this one making wide release, but there may be an indie spot for it in the limited release category, a la The Squid And The Whale. However, the music done for the film was and will remain a massive success that will only help to bolster Turner’s already impressive career.

CoS Verdict: Don’t go crazy far out of your way to see this one. If you happen to be at a theatre where it is showing, or if you pass a Red Box containing a copy of it, go for it. But this soundtrack should by no means be missed.

Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of ATCQ

309 Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011Make room in your favorite music documentary category, one more is about to make its home there. Beats, Rhymes, and Life was without a doubt, the best film I saw at Sundance this year, musically inclined or otherwise.

Either Q-Tip was exaggerating when he said the film wasn’t done, or director Michael Rapaport performed a miracle and finished the film in two days. Because this film was an enthralling, heart-string pulling roller coaster of beauty and insight – all tastefully done. With interviews, cameos, and live performances by a who’s who of hip-hop musicians, including Mos Def, Black Thought, ?uestlove, Pete Rock, De La Soul, Pharrell Williams, Consequence, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, and Talib Kweli, among others, the influence of A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) is easily shown.

Beginning with their childhood companionship, ending in last summer’s Rock the Bells tour, the documentary runs the entire course of A Tribe Called Quest’s history. The film was seamlessly presented, and artfully done, without a single cut scene underdone. In fact, the introduction credits were so moving visually and aurally that the entire screening audience was singing along to Tribe’s anthemic, “Can I Kick It?”.

But this ecstatic anticipation was countered by such candid portrayals of personal struggles that it literally brought tears to the eyes of the viewers. This was a candid look at the pioneering hip-hop group’s career and the far-reaching effects it had on the world.

sundance2 Music As Film: CoS at Sundance 2011A Tribe Called Quest hasn’t been the most vocal of artists about their career, and their breakup, and eventual reunion, but the interviews conducted with the four members of Tribe provides the insight into a world that until now was undiscovered. It becomes so personal at times that it almost makes you feel that you shouldn’t be there. These are the private lives of these artists, and perhaps we shouldn’t be privy to this information. But that raw element is what makes the film so gripping. Think back to the first time you saw The Flaming Lips doc The Fearless Freaks. Remember the scene where Steven Drozd illustrates the steps of doing heroin on camera, and it all becomes very real and heartbreaking? That’s what much of this film felt like.

Artistic conflict, dramatic relationships, tempers flaring; the film covers A Tribe Called Quest in every light, at their best when they were untouchables, and at their worst, when Phife Dawg and Q-Tip couldn’t even talk to one another. There was a particularly candid portion of the film where Phife’s diabetes is addressed by each of the members of the band and Phife’s family, and the camera goes with him into the operation room that is touching beyond all reason. Despite contempt felt between one another, all four members rallied around Phife like the brothers they had always been and come to his rescue.

I have not in a very long time seen a music documentary as touching or as genuinely riveting as Beats, Rhymes, and Life. Get ready to put it up on your shelf next to The Fearless Freaks, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, as one of the greatest music docs of all-time. This film was as packed with emotion as it was information, and the two fed off each other beautifully.

As a fun side note, ATCQ does endorse the film, and Phife Dawg was at the initial screening. During the Q&A, when asked about the current state of hip hop vs. how it was back in his heyday, he called it a dying art. He specifically cited Kanye West and OutKast as some of the only legitimate artists keeping the genre alive.

CoS Verdict: See this movie immediately, hip-hop fan or not.

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