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La Blogotheque: Cinéma-vérité and Music

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
La Blogotheque use one take of the performance and present it as its played out, with a little bit of artistic editing included in the introductions of videos to introduce us to the subject matter, almost like a short documentary.

The first Blogotheque video I ever saw was of Beirut. Zach Condon, in his broken yet admirable French, joking on camera, trying to find a location for their shoot. “Un Concert a Emporter”, a take-away show, reveal the intertitles, before we get a cut back to Zach getting rejected to perform at a café, the rest of the band waiting listlessly along the city sidewalks. We hear the everyday chatter of Paris as another Woody Allen-like intertitle, black background with simple white text, introduces us to Beirut and The Penalty. Outside a bakery, Zach begins to strum his ukulele and sing, eventually making his way into a darkly-lit café from the warm outdoors, where the rest of Beirut awaits amongst the unsuspecting clientele and joins-in in an impulsive wave of musical delight.


I was immediately hooked on the concept of artistically recorded live performances. Each video is completely unique to the time and place it occurred. The next video I saw, and still distinctly remember repeating, was Grizzly Bear’s gloriously improvised a capella performance of “The Knife”. The quality of the video is at best described as amateurish, the performance riddled with laughter and uncertainty, yet the effect, once again, is completely endearing.


Arcade Fire cramped in an elevator by La Blogotheque

Arcade Fire cramped in an elevator
by La Blogotheque


What I found is that La Blogotheque brought elements of Cinéma-vérité to the established form of the music video, striving for a spontaneous and organic quality that’s sadly gone missing in music videos, as the form has degenerated over years of MTV’s formulaic artificiality and blatant product placement. Increasingly, music videos were recognized as the perfect way in which to tap into the holy grail of marketing that is the youth demographic. The medium quickly became exploited and, sadly, over-saturated with subversive advertising and cheap attention-grabbing gimmicks. It begs the question, in front of how many backdrops can the Backstreet Boys realistically sing and dance to? And just how many products can you cram into a Lady Gaga video before we get sick of the deception?


Perusing through the pages of their site, through the various international projects, and cacophony of bands, La Blogotheque has certainly made plenty of friends and admirers. Just get on Pitchfork these days, or any hip radio stations YouTube profile, and they have all created their own brand of live video recordings (albeit with much stronger production value). It has become an experimentation of the established medium of the music video, yet it somehow purifies the medium down to the most basic of characteristics: band, location, cameraman, sound recording, and “action”!


Christophe Abric, the founder of La Blogotheque seven years ago, launched the Take Away Shows with one of the collective’s many talented directors, Vincent Moon. They create a tender and melancholy effect by adding more warmth to the image, letting the bright yellows and the darkest shadows come to the fore while attempting unconventional extreme close-ups, rapid zooms, and canted camera angles. They have also brought with them certain ideals of Cinéma-vérité and the French New Wave in filming their subjects. With the aid of a small crew and a stylized filmmaking approach, they use one take of the performance and present it as its played out, with a little bit of artistic editing included in the introductions of videos to introduce us to the subject matter, almost like a short documentary. The effect is one of transparency and intimacy, expressed even more tellingly in the latest video of Plants & Animals, as we’re taken through their recording process in one long take around the rooms of a recording-studio house.


Department of Eagles by La Blogotheque

Department of Eagles by La Blogotheque


The sound in La Blogotheque may not always be the strongest but that’s one of the many charms. The honking of cars, the prattle of children and clinking of cutlery all add to the sweet ambiance of every video. It is the spontaneity of the surrounds that sometimes offer the most captivating (and hilarious) of moments, like in Bon Iver’s live performance of Skinny Love in a filled apartment, with a man in the background singing along frenziedly, as if in a trance.


La Blogotheque’s videos have been refreshing since its very inception and I look forward to every new episode. And unlike some of the videos I’ve grown up with on MTV, I can never tire of them and keep returning to them. Andrew Bird’s stroll through Montmartre, Sigur Ros’ rowsing performance of “Vid Spilum Endalaust” in a restaurant booth, and Yo La Tengo’s video of an awesome cover of The Trogg’s “With a Girl Like You”, are especially a favorite in my household.


I'm From Barcelona by La Blogotheque

I’m From Barcelona by La Blogotheque


After a childhood of enthusiasm for music videos and watching it deteriorate as all signs of creativity have evaporated, its good to see that, four years on, and with each new video, La Blogotheque continues to capture something new.

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