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Entries in Music (3)

Friday
Jun152018

SWAGGER OF THIEVES: THE JULIAN BOSHIER INTERVIEW

As portrayed in Julian Boshier’s hard-rock doc Swagger of Thieves, life within New Zealand’s legendary metal band Head Like A Hole…well, it hasn’t been easy. One of the country’s most respected music video makers and documentary cameramen, Boshier has spent a fair share of the last 25 years close to band members Nigel ‘Booga’ Beazley and Nigel Regan. Their time in each other’s company has provided Boshier with unprecedented access to some of the most remarkable footage ever filmed of the wild rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle; Swagger of Thieves runs the gamut from ‘young, self-destructive artists in their prime’ to ‘dads and husbands determined to keep their dream alive’. Ahead of his films’ screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Boshier spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the men, the band and his destined-for-cult-status film…

SCREEN-SPACE: In presenting a personal portrait of the lads, what aspect of them as artists and as men had to be conveyed? What was the truth you wanted to tell?

BOSHIER: A documentary should take the audience to a place that they don’t usually have access to. A lot of people love the idea of getting close to a band, of experiencing a tour, or being backstage. So I wanted to get the audience into those normally restricted places, exposing the rehearsal space, the bickering, the tension and the feeling of what it is like being in or around Head Like a Hole. I didn’t really set out to expose the deep inner workings of these guys; how much they were going to reveal [of] themselves on camera was up to them. As time went on the layers revealed themselves and some semblance of them and their truth was laid out. My intention was to present a portrait of them, that they had presented to me. I do feel that they presented the truth, or at least their version of the truth.

SCREEN-SPACE: What is so unique about this band? Why does this documentary tell a different story to other heavy music rock docs?

BOSHIER (picture, right): My relationship with the band allowed me a level of access and intimacy that maybe other music documentary makers have not obtained. This band is not that unique in what they have achieved, but as characters or people, they do possess very unique attributes. This is a mix of dysfunction, unprofessionalism, fractious relationships, incredible humour, toughness, vulnerability. I wanted to approach this project in a different way to your average band profile documentary.  I wanted it to be about people and people living their lives; the backdrop was the band. This approach is why the end result is probably quite different to other rock documentaries.

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve been around a lot of musicians whose careers have ebbed and flowed, but who push on. What are the character traits – good or bad - that are constant in all these music industry veterans?

BOSHIER: Actually quite a few of the bands I have made music videos for have split. The only two bands that have survived are Head Like a Hole and Shihad. Their paths have run a different course from one another, but both bands have lasted twenty-five odd years and both continue to this day. Head Like a Hole are certainly not the darlings of the New Zealand music industry and they do personally struggle at times to continue with their art, financially and otherwise. But their motivation seems to continue; their quest to produce a great new song, or a great performance continues. I guess that motivation comes from the music itself, the power of creating. All members of Head Like a Hole have flexible full-time jobs, and with that flexibility it allows them to take time out to rehearse, record and tour. They operate in bite size chunks and that allows them to continue. (Pictured, above; from left, Nigel 'Booga' Beazley and Nigel Regan)

SCREEN-SPACE: Drug addiction all but destroyed the band; the scenes in which the much younger men shoot up are tough to watch. Was it ever considered a step-too-far including the footage? Why did it have to be in there?

BOSHIER: When I first suggested the idea of a film to Head Like a Hole, we all agreed immediately the approach had to be warts and all. Nigel Regan describes it as being ‘one big wart’. There was no other way to make this film; it couldn’t be dulled down or censored. It had to be a true representation or what was the point. Head Like a Hole have a reputation in New Zealand as a wild bunch, as ‘outlandish outlaws’. So it was important to the integrity of the story that needles were a part of it, as they have been a part of their lifestyle. The audience would have been expecting this type of footage, as their habits are common knowledge. The film would have had a glaring omission without the needle content. (Pictured, above; Boshier, centre, with band members)

SCREEN-SPACE: How did your feelings for these guys and your experience being part, however small, of their history influence how you told their story?

BOSHIER: Knowing these guys for a long time, I felt a huge responsibility undertaking this project. I had to be accountable to the band, to their music, their fans, their families, the movie-going public and to myself. New Zealand does not have many bands or musicians that are worthy or that can offer the myriad of ingredients that go into making a film, so this was something that I could not screw-up. But I have always trusted my own instincts, tastes and atheistic. I’ve always kept a professional distance from these guys and that continued during the filming; the band didn’t quite know what I was doing, and neither did I, but I backed myself. I suppose I took the cut to the edge, allowed no mercy. But this film is about a unique band; they deserved no mercy, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s true and real. (Pictured, above; Head Like a Hole frontman Nigel 'Booga' Beazley)

SCREEN-SPACE: How are the band’s fans reacting to the revelations in the film?

BOSHIER: The reaction in New Zealand has been quite incredible. Both the media and the public have been entertained, shocked and enlightened by this film that has come out of left field. It has drawn quite a broad audience, [which says] to me that I had not wasted many years and a huge amount of money making it. This film deals with friendship, addiction, personal demons, struggle but also the brighter side of life – love, music, fun and laughter. International audiences will have no preconceived notions about this band or film, so it could be a surprising discovery for them. This film is genuinely funny and entertaining; it [comes from] a darkness but also [has] a positivity that I hope international audiences can relate to.

SWAGGER OF THIEVES will screen at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 14. Full ticketing and venue information can be found at the official event website.

Swagger of Thieves Trailer from Trench Film on Vimeo.

 

Thursday
Jul062017

LUNAR ORBIT: THE PATRICK BUCHANAN INTERVIEW

2017 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL: Since forming in 1988, The Orb have conjured the kind of ambient house sounds – an offshoot of the electronica movement that combines acid house and ambient elements – that ensured their music industry status as groundbreaking icons. For his debut feature Lunar Orbit, Patrick Buchanan enveloped himself within the inventive brilliance of founder Alex Paterson and current offsider Thomas Fehlman as they crafted Moonbuilding 2703AD, The Orb's first studio album in 8 years. “I honestly didn’t know they were working on such a phenomenal record,” says Buchanan, who spoke to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of his film’s screening at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Buchanan turned a deep love for the sounds of The Orb into what would become an epic yet intimate look at the band. “I was at a point in my career that I was confident that I could dedicate the time and had the passion to make a film on The Orb, [their] creative process and where it all began for them.” says the Canadian filmmaker. “They are a musical act that I’m fascinated with on so many levels. It was truly an honour to have them give me the trust and to be involved.” (Pictured, top: Buchanan, right, with The Orb founder Alex Paterson)

The director was provided unique access to Paterson and Fehlman in Berlin in 2014, capturing intimate moments of artistry by two 50-something men who still represent the cutting edge of modern music. “The fact that Alex and Thomas are still making such great music and enjoy the process was an aspiring thing for me to witness,” recalls Buchanan, who would combine the footage shot at the jam sessions with archival material and concert clips to form a profile of a musical act still as potent and relevant today as they were 30 years ago. “It’s one thing to meet your musical heroes, to be invited into their world, to follow them on tour, to spend time in their homes and studio,” says the director, “but to get to know them as human beings, as people and to be trusted to tell their stories is the biggest honour I could have asked for.” (Pictured, right; Paterson, left, with Thomas Fehlman)

The music of The Orb plays to a more select audience than the mainstream, an imbalance that Buchanan was motivated to redress. “I certainly believe they deserve much [more] attention and great respect,” he declares. “There is so much shitty, unaspiring music that gets so much media attention. Here is a window into something truly original and great, something personal, something historic. These guys are seminal. This is music created by music lovers in the truest sense.” (Pictured,left; Fehlman, left, and Paterson at work in their Berlin studio) 

A respected editor with 100s of hours of factual-TV cutting experience to draw upon, Buchanan understood the unwieldy nature and inherent power of the unstructured real-life narrative. “Documentary is a compelling filmmaking art form because it’s unscripted and the edit is where it comes alive,” he says. “Where the story is created, you can’t really script it. It’s a great challenge.” The crowning moment of Patrick Buchanan’s odyssey with The Orb was when the band invited Lunar Orbit to be part of a four-hour mega-concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall in April. “That was, honestly, a big thrill,” recalls the humbled filmmaker. “How do you beat that?”

LUNAR ORBIT screens at The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on June 9. Full sessions and ticketing information can be found at the event’s official website here. 

Wednesday
Jun072017

WHITNEY CAN I BE ME: THE NICK BROOMFIELD INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: From the moment Nick Broomfield arrived in the US, the British documentarian has dug deep into the darkest recesses of American society. From the juvenile detention system (Tattooed Tears, 1979), to the mind of a psychopath (Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, 1992), Broomfield has sought truths with a fearless, occasionally reckless, sometimes controversial eye for factual film. Some of his most acclaimed works have been dissections of doomed celebrities, including Monster in a Box (1992), featuring the late Spalding Gray; Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995); Kurt & Courtney (1998); Biggie and Tupac (2002); and, Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (2011).

His latest is Whitney: Can I Be Me, a heartbreaking work that charts the meteoric rise and addiction fuelled decline of America’s Pop Princess, the late Whitney Houston. The film is a combination of fresh interview footage and archival content, the most remarkable being concert and backstage footage shot in 1999 by the great Rudi Dolezal. From his car, sitting immobile in the daily traffic gridlock of one of Los Angeles busiest motorways, Nick Broomfield spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his unauthorised exposé of one of pop culture’s sweetest, saddest talents…  

SCREEN-SPACE: Was a Whitney Houston project in your plans, or did Rudi’s footage give it impetus, a fresh focus?

BROOMFIELD: Rudi’s footage certainly gave it more focus and impetus, but I was working for a year without his footage. I’d done my interviews and got all the music together and was thinking about my edit when I met with Rudi this time last year and we decided to amalgamate our forces. I did not know going in I would have his footage but I was completely delighted when I saw it. It was unique and intimate and never been seen before. I have a profound respect for what Rudi managed to do. It was the luck of the Gods that it all worked out this way. (Pictured, right; Whitney I Can Be Me co-director, Rudi Dolezal)

SCREEN-SPACE: The chasm between her soaring talent and beauty and the depths of her addictions and mental health issues is heartbreaking. How do you perceive of her rise and fall?

BROOMFIELD: She was an incredibly sweet kid, who was funny, funny, funny growing up on the streets of Newark. She was someone who wanted everyone around her to be happy, so went along with the flow to a big extent. In that regard, she was malleable, which I think is what Clive Davis had been looking. She had talent but, unlike Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick, was very new to her career and talent. She was the perfect vehicle for Clive’s vision. But she paid an enormous price for that because, like most creations, they fall apart, when they want to be themselves. They don’t want to be something they know they are not.

SCREEN-SPACE: Having been devoutly involved with her neigbourhood, the backlash from the black community clearly left scars…

BROOMFIELD: It was increasingly hard for her to be ‘Whitney Houston’, particularly with the whole racial thing in the United States, which was so powerful. It was very hard for her to not be accepted by her own people, by the black community, who thought she was sell-out. They called her ‘Oreo Cookie’ or ‘Whitey Houston’, and that was pretty devastating for her. She couldn’t understand where that was coming from. I’m sure Bobby Brown had much more influence than he would have done if these things hadn’t happened. As soon as she stopped being the ‘angel’, the American Sweetheart, which took awhile to happen, and she became the target of ridicule on the late night talk shows…well, I think she was very thin-skinned and that response drove her deeper into her addictions. It was a sad downward spiral. (Pictured, above; Whitney Houston)

SCREEN-SPACE: It is fascinating to view her in hindsight, of her place in 80s pop culture. There was Madonna’s rawness, Michael Jackson’s ‘King of Pop’ status, Springsteen’s working class man persona. Whitney was the 'Princess', an innocent who just wanted to dance with somebody. In the end, it was all that was shitty about the 80s – drugs, corporatisation, race issues – that claimed her…

BROOMFIELD: That's very true. It was decade where all the black artists wanted to make the crossover to this big white audience, and I think the degree of sacrifice they had to make to achieve that was enormous. Not only in what they sang, but how they had to portray themselves. It was very much about forgetting or ignoring where they came from (to become) something that was acceptable in this country. In the same way that O.J. Simpson kind of ended up in a no man’s land that cast him as neither black nor white, Whitney went through not dissimilar things for a long time. When she decided to get back to her roots, she did it with a vengeance, with real defiance.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your film is typically insightful and thorough, but there’s a softer edge to how you approach her story as opposed to your portraits of Kurt Cobain or Tupac or Heidi Fleiss. Did the nature of her story demand that or are you getting melancholy in your old age?

BROOMFIELD: (Laughs) Well, it might be both. I think the film I did before this one, Tales of The Grim Sleeper, was also tender and more loving so, yes, maybe that’s true. Maybe there is more heart in it (pause). You know, I was definitely moved, unexpectedly moved by Whitney’s story. The editor and I would often have tears welling up as we cut it, and we’d both seen it I don’t know how many eyes. It is a very moving, very tragic story.

SCREEN-SPACE: Looking back at your portrait films, those that have featured the likes of Spalding Gray, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, and now Whitney Houston, can you see a through a line in these character types that your films address?

BROOMFIELD: People who give what all those artists give in a performance, who feel things so deeply, who are that charismatic…well, it’s very hard for them to fly so close to the sun and not get burnt. They so celebrate life, are so life affirming, that when we are in their presence you feel alive. Because they are so alive, they make incredible film subjects; they have that elixir. We are excited by the shiniest star and all those people have that, don’t they? Also, they are the icons of our time in history, of the culture we are part of. Portraits of people who have significance to our time and place are fascinating and speak volumes.

WHITNEY: I CAN BE ME screens June 7 and 9 at the Sydney Film Festival before a nationwide release on June 15 via Rialto Distribution. Festival session and ticket details can be found at the event’s official website