From Iceland's first sound feature through a look at DIY music circa '81, to a certified international blockbuster, New York cinephiles are getting a terrific, once-in-a-lifetime primer on less-exposed, eminently worthwhile films from Iceland.
By way of an important side note, yesterday I found out that my favorite video store in Manhattan, World of Video, lost its lease, effectively ending my version of film school, and making both the curation of series like this one, and -- as I have stated in earnest throughout my reviews and commentary -- the need for a true revival house in Manhattan, all the more vital.
Images From The Edge: Classic and Contemporary Icelandic Cinema
Rock In Reykjavik
"Here you are not cool unless you have worked in a fish factory for ten years... "The bus driver calls you a Nazi, or Jesus, for chewing gum..." Ah, the sound of youthful rebellion.
Every country should have a time capsule of what its DIY musicians looked like in the early 80s, and thankfully, a team in Iceland (who will appear in person at Saturday's screening) documented the New Wave and post-Punk musos that sprouted in early-80s Reykjavik, apparently, as one talking head notes, catalyzed by American radio, though I detect strains of Wire, The Tubes, Sparks and Joy Division (one singer could stand-in for Ian Curtis) far more than the Loverboy tune we hear the radio jock spinning.
Watching these sets during which a young girl in the audience does her knitting and a middle-aged guy busts genuinely awkward moves (as opposed to the affected contortions and angular dancing that was part of an aesthetic) as young audience members nervously figure out for themselves how to react, I was reminded of how The Sex Pistols' first shows or Afrika Bambaataa's early sets were actually community-supported events (Pistols played in art-school rec centers and Bam's first DJ sets were in the community center of the Bronx River projects).
And while it is clear that this is a planned project and that the bands are aware of the camera, because these are nearly all groups that are just starting out, their self-awareness has the honesty that permeates any capture of newfound self-expression. It's big fun to see a young Björk's signature swooning yelps and growls in embryonic form.
As valuable as the performances are, the conversations we are privy to reveal the classic self-recriminations as well as the counter-accusations from opposing camps that identity and authenticity-seeking musicians of that era were particularly concerned with. One artists speaks of how the dogmatic rhetoric of some bands actually serves the interest of The Establishment; another does a nice job deconstructing his onstage consciousness; a all-girl group speak of the thrill that comes with reversing gender roles; one group simply decapitate chickens, get arrested and speak of what they see as the hypocrisy inherent in the codified-as-humane killing of animals for food.
At times Rock In Reykjavik feels like an Icelandic Decline of Western Civilization (a good thing, as it were) complete with its own Darby Crash, in the form of a very young, pint-sized, glue-sniffing Punk who updates Pete Townsend's guitar smash (which Townsend did on the advice of his Art school professor) by doing a little war-dance before taking a tomahawk to his axe. I will be keen to ask about his present fate at Saturday's post-screening Q&A.
By way of a minor endnote, In 1989, after meeting a cool chick named Björk, whose band The Sugarcubes had just played a now long-gone Alphabet City club called The World, I organized a tour for what I think is the first contingent of Icelandic bands to play in the U.S.: Bless, Reptile and HAM. Reptile had a pregnant violinist who went on to become a sitcom star in Iceland, and another muso from that tour is the current mayor of Reykjavik (you can see him in the documentary Gnarr, which premiered at last year's TriBeCa Film Festival and is an excellent, hilarious study in wildly successful -- albeit, accidental -- grassroots political success). At the post-screening Q&A during last year's festival, he claimed that during this trip to NYC when we played The Pyramid Club, the now-defunct Downtown Beirut 2, and QE2, he accomplished two firsts: smoking crack, and sleeping with a transvestite; I will note herein that I did not facilitate, participate in, nor witness either of these events. I also didn't make any money on the tour, but Björk got my just-out-of-college self my first all-access backstage pass for The Sugarcubes' tour with PiL and New Order, and finding myself onstage as New Order played "1963" made it all worthwhile.
Rock In Reykjavik will screen on Saturday, 4/20 at 9PM at the Walter Reade Theater
Images From The Edge: Classic and Contemporary Icelandic Cinema begins tonight and runs through April 26th. More info can be found HERE