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Friday, 25 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Death And Resurrection Show


Directed by: Shaun Pettigrew

Produced by: Shaun Pettigrew
Steve Piper

Written by: Shaun Pettigrew

Starring: Jeremy 'Jaz' Coleman
Martin 'Youth' Glover
Kevin 'Geordie' Walker
'Big' Paul Ferguson
Paul Raven

Music by: Jaz Coleman
Killing Joke
Cinematography by: 'Hobe' Brent Abelson
Shaun Pettigrew

Editing by: Prisca Bouchet

Distributed and Produced by: Coffee Films 
ILC Productions

Release date(s): November 16, 2013 (Finland, Rokumentti Film Festival)
May 2, 2015 (Portugal, IndieLisboa)
September 6, 2015 (France)
October 2, 2015 (United Kingdom, limited)

Running time: 150 minutes

Country(s): New Zealand
United Kingdom
Language: English

Production budget: $500,000 (estimated)

Box-office revenue (as of publication): N/A


Rightio, so I've been busy as usual, but what with a bunch of night shifts being cancelled, I've been able to dedicate a serious chunk of time to things that mean something to me, like writing, working on a number of projects and a hefty amount of films watched to review. Every day this week, I've seen a new(ish) release from 2015, so you can expect reviews for Krampus, Straight Outta Compton, Mortdecai, Brooklyn and The Ridiculous 6 at some point in the near future. I've still got to get through five more (including this one) for the September-October-November bracket, so for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Now, with this one here I had to try my best to not go into it completely biased, given that The Death And Resurrection Show is the long-awaited documentary on the band Killing Joke, who are quite possibly my favourite band in the world ever. I don't like to look at any figures or groups of people with any sort of idolatry, but I'd be amiss in not saying that Killing Joke's music has meant a great deal to me personally. It's one of the few things in my life that I believe as representative of a certain form of truth. Their disgust and anger at the world around them is a reflection of my own, and unlike many whole just bitch and groan they, being astute and learned individuals, legitimately posit solutions to these problems, so that we may jump forward to the ultimate goal of transcendence. Anywho, now that I've got that out of the way, let's talk The Death And Resurrection Show! The film chronicles the long and storied history of the band since it's formation in 1978, and has been in production for over a decade, during which time former bassist and beloved brother Paul Raven passed away in 2007, which was the impetus for the original lineup of Jaz Coleman, Geordie Walker, Youth and Big Paul Ferguson to get back together. Already from there you can tell there's quite a story just in the past decade alone. I've seen them perform three times, once in Dublin and twice in London (because no one ever comes to Belfast!), and believe me the atmosphere is somewhere between dionysian chaos and a collective religious experience. Obviously, I went into the screening at the Queen's Film Theatre with mixed feelings, because the fan in me wanted to sit back and enjoy, but as I do with everything I like to take a step back and look upon it objectively. So, shall we dance?

I reiterate, I tried my best not to be biased. However, I loved The Death And Resurrection Show. Of course, the film sounds excellent, Killing Joke's music being the soundtrack of the proverbial apocalypse. Their musical part in the film plays not as much as a greatest hits, but an in-depth exploration into their oeuvre as we follow them through the years. Jaz Coleman's own compositions (primarily from his Island symphony) act as a sort-of compensation for the film's lack of a traditional film score. I suppose part of the upside of developing an independent documentary on talented musicians (Coleman is a respected classical composer outside of his work with Killing Joke) is that there's a chance they'll be more than willing to contribute their services to the production. Big ups as well to the sound department, whose field recordings and mixing ensures that there is nothing amateurish or sloppy with the way things are handled. Perhaps the thing that is most outstanding from a technical standpoint is the editing by Prisca Bouchet. Between all of the raw material, comprising of video footage shot over a span of nearly thirty years, location pickups in different places around the world and talking-heads segments with the band members and various interviewees, this must have been like putting together an indisputably giant jigsaw puzzle. Not only is it superbly stitched together with a seamless flow, Bouchet uses the tools of the trade to pull some interesting tricks. The archive footage in there is more often than not framed by large black sidebars, which has a subconscious effect putting the band members under a metaphorical microscope. Much is made in the film of the influence of magic and mysticism on The Joke, both in their lives and their work, and what Bouchet does is to take the raw material and distort it, not in a gimmicky sort-of way, but something that fits into the larger whole while replicating the magical rituals and seances performed by the band members. As such, it has quite a hypnotic and illusory effect on the entire film, bending your perception of time and creating a mirror to the state of trance. Editing is oftentimes an effective way of changing the way that we define storytelling in documentary films (just look at Catfish, Senna and The Act Of Killing), but I can't remember ever seeing it used in such an innovative fashion. There is also a subtle grace to the cinematography of the film. The DP's are director Shaun Pettigrew and 'Hobe' Brent Abelson, whose own contributions elevate that of the extensive archival footage. Whereas Youth, Geordie and Big Paul are shot full-face and oftentimes are relaxed, whereas Jaz Coleman is rarely if ever seen full-face and the shot composition surrounding him is highly stylised in the footage recorded for the film. Oftentimes depicted in shadow, from behind, or in close-up just his mouth in part of the frame, it contributes to this idea of the man (and by proxy, the band) as myth. Also, there is some really beautiful raw material from the pickup footage that they have collected from the location shooting. Iceland in particular, with the gorgeous scenery and landscape, looks terrific in this. Finally, director Shaun Pettigrew succeeds at the helm of such a momentous task as curator and compiler of Killing Joke. He ensures that the film works as something with a narrative. Beginning with their roots in Ladbroke Grove, he shows the band as they not only go through various ups and downs over the years, but the different paths that each of them lead in their personal lives. Not only that, he sees that the band members, specifically Jaz Coleman, are able to have time to address and confront things that are important to them, most specifically the philosophical, theological, societal and political questions that lie at the heart of their music. Despite myself for much of this film trying to hold back and look at it objectively, it got to a point in the film where I couldn't help myself, and it successfully managed to draw me in on a deeper level. When I saw the footage of the Jaz, Youth and Geordie at Paul Raven's funeral rekindling with Paul Ferguson, who infamously fell out with Jaz over two decades previously, I did start crying. I mean, they had me earlier, but this highly moving scene pulling me in near enough completely. At two-and-a-half hours, it's no small film by any means, but it is a pertinent one. The Death And Resurrection Show is a masterpiece, not only in it's extensive depiction of and testament to Killing Joke themselves, but also as a piece of narrative documentary filmmaking.

Now, as you can gather, despite my perhaps futile attempts at objectivity, I loved The Death And Resurrection Show. That being said, I do have say that there is one problem with the film which, though it be a masterwork, I found to be quite obvious. What it really boils down to is really a production decision on the theatrically released cut of the film. This is an independent picture with a long, arduous production timeline (I mean, for God's sake, Paul Raven died during the course of it's gestation!), and is being independently distributed, so they're obviously going to want to get as many people to see the film as possible. However, the chronological timeline of the picture comes across as lopsided. There's at most in the film's running time about thirty-to-forty minutes of screen time for the sections in the 2000s, the majority of which is devoted to the death of Raven and the reuniting of the original lineup. For anyone who doesn't know film distribution, once a film runs over three hours, unless it's a tentpole studio blockbuster with a huge mass marketing wing, it starts to limit the amount of screenings one can get for their film. The two-and-a-half hour runtime is just right for going into solid detail of the band's epic history, but under that three-hour threshold that would deny it some screenings, plus many audiences are put off by gluttonous running times on films, myself included (I never stop moaning about action blockbusters being in the two-and-a-half hour region). However, while I'm not asking for Shoah or Satantango, I think that an extra forty to fifty minutes, giving the film a runtime closes to two hundred minutes, perhaps would have been appropriate to make it feel less lopsided and to fully enlighten people on the urgency and pertinence of Killing Joke. I have a feeling that come home media release, The Death And Resurrection Show will either have an extended/Director's cut, or be stuffed full of DVD extras.

So, if you're glossing over the wall of text there in the negatives, don't associate that as being indicative of the film's flaws. In fact, it only has one, in that the film does feel lopsided in the chronological narrative timeline and trimmed for theatrical release. It's not the first instance recently of this happening. Take Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act Of Killing, which as you may know has a special place in my heart and I feel to be the most important documentary of recent times. The theatrical release of that film was one-hundred and twenty-two minutes, whereas the Director's Cut was one-hundred and fifty-nine minutes, so while the theatrical cut is still doubtless a masterpiece, the Director's Cut is the definitive chef d'ouevre, as it were. The same can be said of The Death And Resurrection Show. As it stands, the film is a masterpiece. I tried for objectivity, but Lord knows I failed. The sound of the film, from Killing Joke's wide and varied discography to Jaz Coleman's own classical compositions to the overall mixing and editing quality is of a high standard. The real marvel of the film is the editing by Prisca Bouchet, who takes the staggering amount of raw material and stitches it up, not just into a well-put together chronological narrative, but also plays around with it, and not in a gimmicky way, but a subtle manner, replicating the state of trance associated with the magic and rituals performed by the band members. There is also a strong sense of visual photography, from the stylised talking-head segments with Jaz Coleman to the sometimes beautiful location shooting. Finally, director Shaun Pettigrew stands true, doing right by Killing Joke. He not only delves into the philosophical, socio-political and theological thematic content close to the soul of the band's members, but also constructs a powerful piece of narrative documentary filmmaking. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bah, humbug! Only joking, Merry Christmas (take it while you can, you might not get it again!)!

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