Yesterday, good news arrived for Chemical Brothers fans, with the announcement that its full-length concert film, Don't Think, will be released to DVD on both sides of the pond -- available to American fans on April 10.
However, this wasn't the typical DVD release announcement -- it came a week after an interesting experiment by the band, director Adam Smith, and the team at Fathom Events. Last Wednesday, the movie was simulcast across the U.S. for a one-night-only screening, as part of a massive series of screenings, encompassing 500 cities in 20 different countries.
If the official website is to be believed, the concert film -- documenting the Chemical Brothers' show at the Fuji Rock 2011 festival in Japan -- set off a chain of wild raves in theaters everywhere. I'm contrasting this with the indelible image of my Don't Think experience at Austin's Regal Arbor Cinema 8 -- an arthouse-leaning multiplex in a strip mall-leaning landscape -- in which a lone dancer, moved by the infectious beat of "Hey Boy Hey Girl," commandeered the space in front of the screen for a solo, one-song dance exhibition.
But that's not to diminish the achievement of the concert film, which takes on some particularly interesting challenges and excels. The most obvious challenge, of course, is that the Chemical Brothers are more scientists than rock stars, assembling its groundbreaking brand of electronica with button-pushing and knob-twisting.
So, as you might expect, Smith chose to focus on capturing the communal experience of the concert, translating that to a movie audience. The first half of the movie takes on an almost claustrophobic dimension, with such a tight focus on the duo, the ever-busy video display behind them, and the transfixed faces of the crowd, bathed in pink and red lights -- registering anything from bemusement to ecstasy with varying equations of musical and chemical stimuli.
As the concert progresses, Smith peels back the layers a bit to reveal the larger context of the show, and makes interesting choices at points in which the movie threatens to be a bit static and more of the same. In one particularly memorable section, a flood of insects spills across the video monitor in facing-the-stage concert footage, and then the film cuts to several stray video-display insects moving on the ground near a concession stand. This starts a sequence in which the images behind the stage -- culminating with the march of toy robots -- are reflected by similar images and the plank walk of an actual wind-up toy robot in this outpost seemingly far from the action on-stage.
To further build upon what the concert offers in the way of escape and transcendence, Smith intersperses scenes in which one young woman attending the concert is alternately transported to a remote nature setting and a busy urban setting. While the scenes come without warning or extensive development, they're an interesting way to nod toward the obviously trippy potential of the duo's music without getting too Acid Flashback PSA with it all. They also allow for several key images in the concert video to preview here -- most notably, a disturbingly frightening clown, who gutturally intones, "You are all my children now" at a climactic moment in the performance.
The set itself is phenomenal, blending hits and deep tracks from the group's (time to feel old here) 15-year discography. While the set has familiar standalone songs like "Star Guitar," "Believe," "Out of Control," and "Setting Sun," the best moment in the show just might be the looping of the most familiar elements of "Galvanize" with the steady, propulsive qualities of "Leave Home," as an extended lead-in to set closer "Block Rockin' Beats."
And, in the latter half of the show, the audience does get brief glimpses into the craft of how the music's made, with the cameras peeking through the duo's impressive fort-of-keyboards to reveal Tom Rowlands singing along to recorded vocal tracks, both Rowlands and Ed Simons being literally moved by their own creations, dancing in place while adding texture to songs and navigating transitions from song to song.
While the DVD release obviously doesn't bring the communal feeling of what happened last week to audiences in quite the same way as the Fathom simulcasts did, it should be welcome news for the group's fans -- who will find the film highlighting the most crucial aspects of their appeal -- as well as for the curious and new-to-their-sound, who will find enough here to be engaging in at least episodic doses.
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