Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Scott Walker - 30 Century Man (2006)

Scott Walker is an incredible talent, both for his music and his approach to achieving his singular vision. This documentary succeeds in giving a great overview of his career, as well as illuminating his more recent, and extremely unconvential, explorations in soundscapes and composition.

I don't know many people who like Scott Walker, or who are even aware of his work (at least not since the seventies), but I personally am a big fan of his early work and extremly intrigued by the increasingly distinctive path his music is taking. This film will only really appeal to fans of Walker, or at least serious music enthusiasts interested in learning more about a reclusive musician that will doubtlessly have been namechecked by several of their favourite artists.

The film is split into two parts. The first covers his career as a mainstream pop-star with The Walker Brothers beginning in the 60s, and his early solo albums that betrayed his pop beginnings and became increasingly experimental in their arrangments. We are treated to several interviews with artists as diverse as David Bowie, Radiohead and Lulu, as well as a rare insight from the man himself. This first part focuses almost entirely on his professional career and his appeal to both teenage girls and later, serious musicians. It is a great introduction to his music for anyone unfamiliar with his work, and several songs are played extensively, often accompanied by footage of his celebrity fans listening and commenting on his genius.

The latter part tackles his more recent and more challenging albums: 1995's 'Tilt' and his latest, 'The Drift', as well as commissions for Leos Carax's film 'Pola X' and singer Ute Lemper. This second section is for more serious fans, as is the music, which has alienated and fascinated his fans and critics in equal measure. This is an exploration of a highly distinctive artist with a very personal vision and a strong idea of the music he wants to create. We receive a privileged viewpoint in the studio with Scott and his collaborators as they search for new sounds by banging boxes, scraping dustbins and punching meat. The results are certainly astounding, although I doubt anyone will find it particularly enjoyable, just incredible that there is someone out there making music like this.

There's doubt that Scott Walker has been an important artist, and it's great that a documentary has finally been made that brings him more attention - hopefully many people, perhaps from a younger generation unaware of his time in The Walker Brothers, will seek this out. The film itself includes a range of musicians, industry insiders and collaborators ensuring a wide range of opinions - although everyone is devoted to him and understanding of even his most difficult experiments. Only Marc Almond expresses a dislike for one of his records, and it would perhaps been interesting to hear from some detractors, possibly some negative press to give a broader idea of his career. The only negative aspect of the film itself is some use of CG visuals during the playing of tracks, which do seem a bit 'tacky', when photo montages or real, evocative visuals would be more suitable.

All in all, however, it's an illuminating film that shines a light on a great, sadly underground, artist, whose career has covered a wider spectrum than perhaps anything else, and is still 'pushing the envelope'. To paraphrase Brian Eno while he listens to The Walker Brother's 1978 comeback album, 'Nite Flights': "It's humiliating listening to this; we've got no further than this in all this time."

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