SIFF 2014 Face The Music Preview: Beautiful Noise

Beautiful Noise
(Directed by Eric Green, USA, 2014)

Festival screenings:
Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 9:15 PM - SIFF Cinema Uptown
Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 9:15 PM - AMC Pacific Place 11
[ director in attendance at both screenings ]

It’s the film shoegaze fans have been waiting for: the documentary Beautiful Noise takes an in-depth look into the genre, highlighting bands like the Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, and My Bloody Valentine. Through interviews with the artists themselves, and with fans like Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Robert Smith of The Cure, first-time director Eric Green turns up the volume on this period in music history.

The film is separated into chapters, traced by an animated timeline at the bottom of the screen. Cocteau Twins kick off the genre in the late ’70s with their ethereal, otherworldly sound, followed by the sonic snarl of The Jesus and Mary Chain in the early ’80s.

Green has collected an impressive group of guests: Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Mark Gardener of Ride, Neil Halstead of Slowdive, Ian Masters of Pale Saints, just to name a very few. Admittedly, I was less enthralled with the non-shoegaze guests. As a shoegaze fan, I would much rather hear Kevin Shields talk than Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan theorizes on the end of the shoegaze scene, saying, I would “imagine” this happened, and I “bet” this happened, and I found myself thinking, “Why don’t we just cut to someone who was there?” But, with that said, I fell in love all over again with Robert Smith of The Cure — good grief, could he be any sweeter? His love of the genre rang so authentic, and his fandom was so genuinely enthusiastic, I found myself looking forward to his talking head spots. The way he smiled when he talked about the Cocteau Twins album Treasure made me swoon! (You’ll see what I mean if you see the film; I don’t want to spoil the moment.)

One of my favorite chapters of the film is when Green explored the boy/girl phenomenon of the shoegaze era: I had never really stopped to think about how female-friendly 4AD Records had been, or how shoegaze combines the male/female aesthetics, but it made me really proud to have come-of-age with a genre of music that didn’t care about gender.

Kudos to Green for tackling such an ambitious project, but the greedy fangirl in me did wonder if maybe the film would’ve been better served as one of those ten-part Ken Burns-style series documentaries. Robin Guthrie says at one point, there’s still so many stories to be told, which is true for every band. I’ve always wanted a biography of the Cocteau Twins, whose story unfolded in the pre-internet world and whose band members were notoriously reticent. (Guthrie explains in the documentary, they stopped talking to the press partly because journalists made fun of their Scottish accents.) The film touches on the feud between My Bloody Valentine and Creation Records, but you can tell there’s much more story there. (Though I suppose you could glean that story from the 2010 documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story.)

In any case, it’s a beautiful and loving introduction to the genre, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again in the theater, with that beautiful noise in surround-sound.

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