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  • Ride, Rise, Roar | Review

    SXSW FILM 2010

    By | 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.

    Rating: 7/10


    Topics: Film Reviews, News | 2 Comments »

    • JP

      I’m a big Byrne fan too, but I couldn’t handle the choreography focus in this one. Made it pretty difficult for me to get through….
      The music was awesome, but unfortunately got overshadowed :(

    • http://www.facebook.com/d.eric.noble D. Eric

      “The Name of This Band is Talking Heads”. Other than that, I agree with everything you said.

      Unfortunately the movie fails to capture the pure kinetic energy felt by audiences of the live show. Byrne’s trademark awkward mannerisms are on display in the behind the scenes footage, providing the one or two unintentional laughs that are too rare in a film that takes itself a little more seriously than is necessary. It’s just not as much fun as it should be.

      At one point one of the tour’s choreographers describes something as “all foreplay and no orgasm.” This is an apt summation of the film it total, unfortunately. Director Hillman Curtis misses the mark on his feature film debut by keeping his cameras too close to singular action—focusing too much on individual choreography instead of how the piece works as a whole. Too much concentration is paid to microscopic elements of the show (specifically the dancing), while the macroscopic presentation of the entire production is virtually ignored. Only a couple of shots go wide enough to give the movie audience an understanding of how the show looked from the concert audience’s perspective. As a result, the film never quite builds to the visceral communal ecstasy of the Talking Heads/Jonathan Demme masterpiece “Stop Making Sense” (a film Roger Ebert correctly describes as “one of the greatest rock movies ever made”).

      Like “Stop Making Sense”, crowd shots are limited. But unlike stop making sense, there is almost no visual budget allocated to the musicians in the show. In fact, here the music is almost secondary to the dancing. While the musical arrangements do a great job of dusting off some of the 25+-year-old material (which does seem to be holding up well, probably due to the unusual rhythms employed on the original tracks) the sound mix of the film is just adequate—nothing spectacular.

      During a Q&A after the SilverDocs screening, producer Will Schluter noted they did not set out to make “Stop Making Sense II,” and that, in fact, many involved in the creation of this piece (Schluter and the dancers included) were not even born when “Stop Making Sense” was released. Granted “Sense” is a tough act to follow, but it would have done them all good to at least watch the classic before embarking on this project—if only to get a sense of the joy could have been conveyed with the material at hand.

      Also of interesting note, the words “talking” and “heads” are never spoken in the film, separately or together. It’s not hard to understand why a Heads reunion will probably never happen, given that Byrne refuses to even acknowledge their contribution to more than half of the material in his most recent tour. Whereas “Stop Making Sense” was a great film, “Ride, Rise, Roar” will only be of interest to dedicated Byrne fans, or anyone particularly interested in modern dance.