Gandules '09 playing at the CCCB every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 10pm
This year’s Gandules (which is the Catalan word for deckchairs, the seating form of choice for watching the films) festival sees the CCCB running a series of films which all employ musicians and music as the main protagonists. Films about musicians have enjoyed a bit more press coverage than is the norm recently, thanks in no small part to the heavily promoted I’m Not There (2007) by Todd Haynes, which features a gender-bending Cate Blanchett taking on, albeit shared with other actors, the primary role of gravel-voiced legend Bob Dylan.
But even though this film brought the genre to the attention of critics and the public alike, as a cinematic classification it still has to endure only marginal success, appealing mainly to those die-hard fans eager to get their hands on ever more intimate knowledge about their chosen idols. Looking back over the history of the music film, many titles have found it hard to get distribution due mainly to a record of poor profits at the box office. Even Shine a Light, the film about mega-band The Rolling Stones and directed by the illustrious film-maker Martin Scorsese, only managed to gross $5.5 million when it came out in 2008.
It’s clear that the genre has fallen out of favour with the YouTube generation who survive on insider information about their icon(s) from tweets on Twitter and increasingly smart, PR-fed media snippets. But despite this, there have been, and no doubt will be again, some impressive and cult films about musicians, and a selection of these are being played during the CCCB’s outdoor cinema season this month.
One of the highlights in the programme is the highly regarded Bruce Weber film, Let’s Get Lost (1988). Weber, a photographer best known for his beautifully textured, fashion-focused shots, took as his subject the troubled but cherished jazz musician Chet Baker. The trumpeter’s tumultuous life was filled with enough drama to fill the film with high emotion but Weber worked hard to allow the heavenly music to shine through and this is what arguably makes it one of the best films of its kind. Next up is Clint Eastwood. His love of jazz led him to produce Bird, his tribute to Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and which is undoubtedly a great stab at the genre, but the CCCB are screening Honkytonk Man (1982), not a musical biopic as such, but one where music takes on one of the lead roles, and is mainly performed by Eastwood and his son with reasonable success.
The next film that stands out in the programme is John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1959), an improvisational film that takes as its theme the interracial friendships of some New York hipsters in the Fifties, and includes a superb soundtrack by Charles Mingus. The beat-era film highlights the essential inclusion of music in cinema and its rightly appointed central position when documenting this social movement. In the month-long series, other titles to put in your diary are Charlotte Zwerin’s film Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), which features a paranoid Gene Hackman escape his mental troubles by picking up the saxophone.
Whether or not the film documents a musician’s life or the music of an era, which is promoted to be more than just a soundtrack, all of these films bring you closer to music, one way or another. And what better way to educate or reacquaint yourself with a musician or a certain musical epoch than sitting back in the comfort of a deckchair and immersing yourself in the jazz of Chet Baker, the country of Clint Eastwood or the folk-punk of Elliott Smith under the summer skies.
Gandules ‘09. Playing cinema
August 4th to 27th
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10pm
Free entry; films shown in original language