Sunday, May 06, 2007

Brain-sawing, briefly

If you took the hellish descent of Requiem for a Dream and combined it with the sound of a buzzsaw grinding its way through your head, you would have the full experience of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.

Scott Walker was a fresh-faced, wholesome member of the Walker Brothers (none really called Walker, none brothers) in the 60s, before he fell into avant garde experimentalism. Gone are the cheerful tunes, in comes the music where pieces of meat are slapped and what sounds like monkeys are tortured.

This isn't a music review, so I won't go on and on about the absolutely nightmarish 30 minutes I spent while my eardrums were pierced with tiny pins and my brain was hacked through by a rusty letter-opener. It was sensory overload, and not in the eating-too-much-Green-&-Blacks-chocolate-while-watching-Sex-and-the-City way. It was pain, administered by decibels.

There are, however, equally legitimate criticisms applicable to the film. Its great claim is that it has got the reclusive Walker to speak on-camera about his life and work, but he's reticent about elaborating on his life. He has a euphemistic drink problem ('imbibing') but he won't explain how it came about, which would presumably actually let us learn something about him.

The film started off pretentiously, comparing Walker to Orpheus; Walker may have come back from the musical dead, but he sounds like he's brought their anguished cries with him and used them as a backing track. Orpheus represents the power of love and music, and has endured as a symbol and a story for thousands of years; Walker's experimentalism is far too self-conscious with sense so suppressed that if he endures, it is not as a tragic poet but as a wasted talent. He is no Orpheus for our times.

The talking heads (Lulu, Jarvis Cocker, Alison Goldfrapp) did their best to provide comment on the music, but few could give an insight into Walker's life, and they could certainly be seen straining even to praise his more conceptual music. It was only a long-term collaborator who had any clue what Walker was like.

While the film clearly illustrated Walker's arc - from 60s golden boy to uber-Philip Glass - it left me in the dark about Walker the man. It's no coup to have him hawk his new album with superficial remarks about his life: what would have impressed me was some insight into how he became the sort of person who believes that music - like love - should hurt.


Dan Hart said...

Love your blog! Came to it after seeing the Scott Walker doc - my taste can run to the avant-garde but this was absurd (I mean "The Drift") - but as a person he was intriguing.

Josh Spero said...

Cheers! I quite liked Walker's earlier avant-garde stuff - the Jacques Brel bits and afterwards - but when it came to hitting the meat for effect (sadly not a euphemism), it went a bit too far... Hope you come back to the blog soon.