Today’s players : Tom Waits, Roger Ebert, Ramin Bahrani and Werner Herzog.
Bone Machine Reverb
It should come as no surprise that Tom Waits has little regard for the conventions of modern recording. His lyrics, his demeanour, his gravel throated rasps – they all exude an authenticity unsuited to being captured within sterile, pre-fabricated surrounds. Back in 1992, along with his album Bone Machine, Tom released an interview disc ( ‘The Operator’s Manual’ ), which in some detail, discussed how the album came to be. Parts were hilarious ( “With Keith Richards, we’d try to finish a bottle and a song everyday. We’d always finish the bottle.” ), but all of it was fascinating. And when it came to choosing the recording location, Tom liked to know know / feel what had been there before, liking one of the rooms because it had been a children’s nursery at some point, and he liked how that resonated with what he had in mind for the album.
The Man Without A Voice
The man without a voicebox, more like it, is Roger Ebert, who with a Pulitzer prize for criticism in 1975, 15 books on film, 23 years of film reviews on tv with Gene Siskel, and his massively popular blog – definitely has a voice. His writing is a rewarding blend of personal anecdotes and technical insight, and it’s accompanied by a whirlwindy passionate army of commenters. It was his steady stream of twitter links and provocations that first hooked me into his writing though, and lead me eventually to his longer posts about Werner Herzog and Ramin Bahrani ( two of his favourite directors ), his going to watch Rocky II at the cinema with Muhammad Ali, and somewhere along the line realising that this busy juggernaut of a critic – can’t speak ( at least not without a computer voicebox to replace his, due to post-surgical thyroid cancer complications). Or eat or drink ( he uses a feeding tube). Not that he’s letting this get him down, or slow him down.
“I mentioned that I can no longer eat or drink. A reader wrote: “That sounds so sad. Do you miss it?” Not so much really. Not anymore…. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss…. Maybe that’s why I enjoy this blog. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.”
– ( A long and profound read )
Admittedly the only film I’ve seen of Ramin’s is Plastic Bag, a 20 minute short – exploring the life of a disposable plastic bag, and threaded with a grim, existential gravity through its narration by Werner Herzog. And the way that was put together immediately adds his 3 feature films to the wishlist : Goodbye Solo, Copy Shop and Man Push Cart, each of them having won awards in recent years. Both Bahrani + Herzog lead a recent shot-by-shot discussion of Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God at a recent public festival.
The German Voodoo Man
Herzog, he who has physically hauled a ship over a mountain ( Fitzcarraldo ), has taken a camera onboard an experimental flying vehicle ( White Diamond ), and who has moved amongst the burning Gulf War fires in Kuwait ( Lessons of Darkness ), famously speaks of a ‘voodoo of location’, which Ebert suggests is the ways in which an actual location, where actual events take place, carries a psychic, or emotional, or sensory, charge to the screen – and the more intense and physical enduring the location, the more palpable the results onscreen. Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, is a film about a doomed historical expedition in Peru, a conquest that Herzog reshot by retracing their steps, despite the various perilous conditions.
More Voodoo : New Orleans, home of the voodoo doll, is the setting for David Simon’s currently screening television follow-up to the Wire, Treme, which focusses on musicians living in post-Katrina conditions.