SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 25, 2010
Director: Hillman Curtis
Starring: David Byrne
Brian Eno’s music career began in 1971 when he joined Roxy Music; he is credited (as “Eno”) for VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects and backing vocals on their first two – and arguably best – records (Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure). Between 1973 and 1977, Eno released four “vocal” or “pop” albums – Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and after Science – that will forever be included as some of my favorite albums of all time. During this time, Eno also worked with Robert Fripp (King Crimson) and released No Pussyfooting (1973) and Evening Star (1975); Eno also released his first solo “ambient” (a term Eno is often credited as coining) album, Discreet Music (1975), which then led to his Ambient series (Music for Airports, The Plateaux of Mirror, Day of Radiance and On Land).
But if you’re reading this review about Ride, Rise, Roar then you are probably more interested in David Byrne and the Talking Heads, right? Well, hold onto your king’s red hat…I am getting there!
Brian Eno began his collaboration with the Talking Heads in 1978 with their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food (which Eno co-produced and is credited for synthesizers, piano, guitar, percussion and background singing), and continued with 1979’s Fear of Music (which Eno co-produced and is credited for backing vocals, electronic treatments) and 1980’s Remain in Light (which Eno produced and co-mixed is credited for bass guitar, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals, vocal arrangements). There might be some dispute as to which of these three Talking Heads albums is their best (my vote is Remain in Light, though I love them all) – but the general concensus is that these are the Talking Heads’ best albums. After seperating ways with the Talking Heads, Eno continued to work with David Byrne and in 1981 they released the mind-blowing My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Twenty-seven years later, Byrne and Eno released Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (which was one of my favorite albums of 2008). Needless to say – at least in my humble opinion – the dynamic duo of Eno and Byrne are able to work magic like few other musical collaborations.
First-time director Hillman Curtis’s documentary Ride, Rise, Roar and David Byrne’s 2008-09 U.S. and European tour (titled “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour”) – which Curtis’s documentary follows – are celebrations of these fruitful Byrne and Eno collaborations. Throughout the tour, Byrne performed a near-perfect mix of Eno-era Talking Heads and tracks from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today; and Ride, Rise, Roar features full-length versions of several of the tour’s performances. But, it seems to be a common confusion that Ride, Rise, Roar might be just another concert film – well it’s not – and the “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour” was not just another tour.
David Byrne has never failed to push boundaries and Ride, Rise, Roar offers undeniable proof that nothing has changed. That said; Ride, Rise, Roar is not for everyone. Heck, I am not even sure if it’s for every David Byrne fan – mostly because Ride, Rise, Roar focuses pretty heavily on the dance choreography of the tour. Byrne enlisted a team of choreographers (Noémie Lafrance, Annie-B Parson and Robbinschilds Dance [Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs]) and three dancers (Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker) to choreograph dance routines to several of his songs. Often Byrne (not acting at all like a 55-year old) and his three back-up singers (Redray Frazier, Kaissa and Jenni Muldaur) also participate in the dance routines.
Curtis utilizes concert footage from a wide range of performances – though since the sparse set and costume design (everyone is dressed in white) remained relatively consistent throughout the tour, only a very discerning viewer would be able to pick out when different performance dates are mashed together within one song. Sprinkled between the songs, the film intersperses intimate “behind the scenes” footage of the choreographing and rehearsal process as well as interviews with a few of the key players involved in the tour (the back-up singers, the choreographers, Byrne’s manager, the dancers, Brian Eno and David Byrne). The “behind the scenes” footage is much more enlightening than any of the interviews – though I find Brian Eno and David Byrne to be very engrossing personalities no matter what they are rattling on about.
Anyway, I am obviously a fan of Byrne and Eno’s work – so just the musical performances in Ride, Rise, Roar are reason enough for me to want to watch this documentary multiple times – but I also think that the choreography and the integration with Byrne’s performances of the songs is quite amazing. (Just watching Byrne move and dance around like a 23-year old is totally entrancing to me.)
Ride, Rise, Roar is by no means a perfect documentary, though. I think the interviews could have either been more informative or cut altogether. Also, I think that a tour documentary following David Byrne deserves to be more visually creative and stunning. Thankfully, the stage performances are creative and stunning enough to make Ride, Rise, Roar intriguing…I just think that a better production would have really done this material the justice it deserves.