DJ Hostettler
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All Tomorrow’s Parties

By - Sep 27th, 2009 01:15 am
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All Tomorrow's Parties

All Tomorrow’s Parties
UK, 2009, 85 min, English
Sunday, Sept. 27, 7:15 pm, Oriental Theatre
Tuesday, Sept. 29, 9:45 pm, Oriental Theatre
Saturday, Oct. 3, 5:15 pm, North Shore Cinema

Would an indie-rock documentary ever be complete without an appearance from Thurston Moore? About halfway through All Tomorrows’ Parties, the Sonic Youth guitarist faux-interviews some random souls in his typical time-displaced-beatnik-dropped-into-No-New-York style, asking them, “A lot of people see rock-and-roll as youth culture, and when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do?”

The answer, apparently, was to start their own culture, their own community, in the guise of All Tomorrow’s Parties, festivals held every year at the Camber Sands Holiday Park in East Sussex and Butlin’s holiday camp in Minehead, in the United Kingdom. Each year, the event is curated by a different band that’s asked to bring in musical acts they’d like to see — artists acting like fans with booking power, bringing in acts they want. The festival was originally intended as an alternative (there’s that word) to corporate music festivals like Reading, and as is pointed out a few times in the film, to date, there is still no corporate sponsorship to be seen at the event — a true rarity in festivals worldwide.

This point, along with a few strategically placed clips from Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Jerry Garcia about the power of music being greater than corporate interests, are as close to explicitly delivering a message or manifesto as the film gets. The film depicts community as, in Moore’s words, “The ultimate mix tape,” letting the music do the talking with a collage of performances from, well, just about everyone in your indie record collection. Want a sampling? Here’s just a few: Grinderman, (festival originators) Belle & Sebastian, Shellac, Slint, Dirty Three, Mogwai, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Gossip, The Stooges, The Boredoms, GZA, Animal Collective, Les Savy Fav, Portishead, Battles and Sonic Youth (obviously).

Yeah Yeah Yeahs on stage (photo by Leigh Johnson)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs on stage. Photo by Leigh Johnson.

And, that’s just who they show on stage. Perhaps more exciting is the footage of Lightning Bolt thrashing in front of a small number of devotees during an impromptu set in the camp (where the bands live during the weekend, side by side with the fans — aw, like a community!) and subsequently (and hilariously) getting yelled at by neighbors complaining about the noise, or of Daniel Johnston performing in his room while his admiring neighbors peer through his windows.

The film intersperses stock footage from other documentaries and news programs about the British holiday camps in an attempt to convey a sense of historical context — ATP as a vital piece of the countryside’s history, as well as the history of popular music (as evidenced by the Garcia and Smith clips). It’s an effective technique that calls to mind other British music docs that make similar use of stock footage, like the Sex Pistols film The Filth and the Fury. (Seriously, is this something they teach in British Film School?)

Above all else, from the performances to David Cross confronting a heckler after a set,

Outside of society--Patti Smith (photo by Ourtrueintent.com)

Outside of society–Patti Smith. Photo by Ourtrueintent.com.

to an overeager audience member racing through the camp to meet the musician he just witnessed (“that was the most amazing set. We have to talk to him .… you don’t understand, he created that thing live onstage … that’s his heart, his soul, his energy …we need to let him know that we feel that!” Seriously, SO. MANY. HIPPIES), All Tomorrow’s Parties succeeds almost as a “visit scenic Camber Sands!” tourist film, selling the viewer on just how damn cool it’d be to join this community for a weekend — a community where, to quote Mr. Garcia, everyone becomes “one enormous rock-and-roll band, with participants from all over the earth … there would be no headliner, there would only be music … rather than the star system and all that show business stuff.” What better way to ditch the “show business stuff” than to make the bands bunk with the fans? Heck, the film itself, rather than being credited to one director, is credited to “All Tomorrow’s People,” in tribute to the legions of fans and musicians who donated their own self-shot footage to the production. If there’s one feeling the viewer is likely to take away from All Tomorrow’s Parties, it’s a feeling of “I could have been part of this. I could have been there. I have to be there next time!” Or, if the viewer was lucky enough, “I was there. I shot that.”

Community — in content, context and execution. And all operating, as Patti Smith screams during the closing credits, “outside of society.” Groovy, man.

What did you think about the documentary?  What was your favorite scene or clip?

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