Monday, 30 March 2009

A New Sound at the Cinema

The recent success of Anvil! The Story of Anvil has seen the heavy metal band performing live in cinemas across the UK. Gail Tolley looks at a growing trend for events that fuse film, music and performance at the cinema.

Music and film have long been comfortable bedfellows. From the ‘rockumentary’ (The Filth and the Fury, The Doors) to the fictional accounts of the rock and roll lifestyle (Almost Famous, Velvet Goldmine) to the biopic (Control, I’m Not There, The Devil and Daniel Johnston) – the list is endless. And that’s not even touching on the films which have seen bands performing as part of the story, just think of The Yardsticks performance in Blow Up or Nick Cave in Wings of Desire.

But Anvil!, the documentary about the Canadian heavy metal band, has taken this relationship one step further, not only by bringing the band into the cinema to perform after screenings but also by creating an experience that lasts long after the credits roll. The documentary follows the two main members of the group some 25 years after they first tasted success with their influential album Metal on Metal. Yet unlike their contemporaries, such as Metallica and Anthrax, the group never made it big. With a heavy nod to the spoof documentary This is Spinal Tap director Gervasi uses humour to entice the audience into what becomes an emotionally involved trip following the group as they continue to chase their childhood dreams. By the end of the film even those with a complete dislike for heavy metal will find themselves rooting for the band.

What appears to be unique about Anvil! was that the film experience, for many, lasted far beyond the 2 hours of the film. A quick search online shows that the group gained a dedicated following after the film’s release which has lead to them gaining prominent slots at festivals this summer. They’re due to play Download festival and there’s even a petition to get the ageing rockers to play at Glastonbury. Never have an audience been able to make such a difference or felt so involved with a film’s story – a story that still continues to develop. On release of the film the band also played a series of gigs in cinemas after screenings, for those lucky enough to get the opportunity to watch the film and then see the band it was an unusual case of the on and off screen world merging. More than any other film in recent years, Anvil! managed to create a truly interactive film experience as epitomised by the act of bringing live performances into the cinema.

Film events that fuse music, film and performance are an increasingly frequent occurrence at the cinema. At the Edinburgh International Film Festival last year Brighton indie stars British Sea Power performed against a backdrop of specially curated images and at Glasgow Film Festival a selection of local bands came together in a similar event, entitled Shhh! An Evening of (Not So) Silent Movies - playing to accompany films from the silent era. They’re not the only musicians to have been inspired to give live soundtracks to early silent films: front man Black Francis of influential 90s punk-rock group the Pixies, performed a specially composed score for German Expressionist film The Golem at the San Francisco Film Festival in 2008. And in the UK Steven Severin (of Siouxsie and the Banshees), recently created a modern day score for Germaine Dulac’s surrealist work The Seashell and the Clergyman. The Barbican in London have also taken to putting on monthly events of a similar nature.

Such events are almost a return to how cinema would originally have been experienced during the silent era; with audiences watching silent images with a live musical accompaniment. The growth and predominance of sound films has meant that the sense of performance at the cinema seems to have been lost – it’s often only at festivals that audiences feel compelled to clap after the film has finished. Bringing musicians into the cinema can only be a good thing - not only does it introduce new audiences to films from cinema’s early history but it also brings an energy and dynamism to the whole experience of seeing a film. Film (and music) fans hungry for something new won’t be disappointed.

Gail Tolley

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