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So, the Scott Walker film

Posted on 2007.05.08 at 16:45
Last week we went to see Scott Walker: 30th Century Man at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was my lone foray into the fest, which is still an upgrade from last year's zero viewings.

Overall I thought it was an excellent documentary. Especially when factoring in how hard it is to make a substantial film about a cult artist who rarely appears in public and has put out 3 albums in the past 30 years. The opening monologue about the spirit Orpheus and Walker's metaphorical similarities was probably the only precious moment in the whole film. From there in, it presented a more or less chronological retrospective of Walker's career from his youth as one Scott Engel who became a teen pop idol in the early 60's to the rise and fall of the Walker Brothers to the guy who has seemingly come out of nowhere every decade since to make Climate of Hunter, Tilt, and The Drift.

Interspersed with rare archive footage and stills of various Walker memorabilia, photos, album sleeves, press, etc. were interviews with a who's who of contemporary musicians like David Bowie (depressingly looking like a wrinkled overtanned Yale blueblood on his yacht with the ugliest striped polo I've ever seen), Goldfrapp, Marc Almond, Gavin Friday (whose appearance with gray beard stubble, missing teeth, thick glasses, and long curly hair tucked under a newsboy cap was the biggest shocker), Johnny Marr, Jarvis Cocker, Radiohead, Damon Albarn, etc. I found it funny that at 60, Walker (who gives a good and rare interview interspersed throuhghout the film) looks younger and in better shape than a lot of these fortysomethings.

There were some ethereal color montages with floating words for some of the 30-60 second clips of music, which actually managed to stay a bit above the level of WinAmp "visualizations". For other clips, some interesting footage choices were employed: a particular favorite during the voiceover by the A&R guy for Fontana reflecting on visiting the studio to hear Tilt for the first time after it was completed. As he describes how overwhelming the music sounded on the "big" monitor in the studio and wished to switch it to the smaller monitor, a stark black and white empty studio is shown with a lone speaker pulsing on a table as the opening track "Farmer in the City" swells to its apex. As the man recalls, Scott insisted on switching it back again to the big monitor because "I plan to never listen to this again now that it's complete, and I would like to remember how it sounded on the loudest speaker here".

The interview itself was enlightening. During an earlier sequence, Scott recalls how he ended up at some Playboy party in Los Angeles while with the Walker Brothers in the 60's, and one of the bunnies took him home and introduced him to the music of Jacques Brel -- who became a huge influence on those four eponymous solo records. He also mentions how he ended up getting his first translations of Brel's lyrics from Anfrew Loog Oldham, who had just seen the musical that came out that year for American audiences (and remains a staple of college drama departments) "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well (And Living in Paris)".

Some other highlights from the other musicians interviewed were David Bowie listening to "The Old Man's Back Again" and exclaiming "Wow, I love that bassline, never noticed that before!" and later "I honestly don't understand any of these lyrics, but it sounds great". Similarly, Ute Lemper (who performed 2 of Walker's compositions for her Punishing Kiss album in 2000) is interviewed recalling the lyrics she sang and how little it made sense to her and how weird the whole thing was recording those pieces.

After the screening, the director Stephen Kijak appeared on stage to discuss the work and take questions. I managed to get mine in: "Why only British artists and particularly Londoners?". The answer ended up being pretty simple: on a limited budget and unsure of when Scott Walker would grant an interview and let the crew inside the studio as they were recording The Drift, the filmmakers had no choice but to linger in London for a few weeks during which they made the most of the time contacting various famous musicians who were fans and willing to give interviews for the film.

I hope there is a DVD release forthcoming, and I would highly recommend it to any fans of Scott Walker's music.

Comments:


toddbert at 2007-05-09 01:28 (UTC) (Link)
Does Walker come across as a 'normal' person? How the hell does he make a living inbetween records? I mean, I can't imagine Tilt sold that many copies.
eachman
eachman at 2007-05-09 08:47 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the review.

About Gavin Friday... here are some recent pictures of him:
http://flickr.com/photos/caroline/sets/72157594559677015/

I don't think he looks that bad for a 47 year old, in fact he's fitter than he was 10 years back.
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