Film

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: 'The Swell Season’ and ‘The Loving Story’

The Loving Story

One great documentary is about a relationship that may eventually be forgotten, and another important documentary about a relationship which set a precedent on equal rights for marriage.

The Swell Season

Director: Nick August-Perna, Carlo Mirabella-Davis and Chris Dapkins
Cast: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova

The Loving Story

Director: Nancy Buirski

Two films, documentaries to be precise, about love and relationships, The Swell Season and The Loving Story, played at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 29th, with filmmakers fielding questions afterwards. But while the former is about a relationship that may eventually be forgotten, the relationship in the latter film, begun almost two generations ago, was vital in creating an important legal precedent still being used today.

The Swell Season film was originally construed as a film about the band of the same name (featuring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) going on tour around the world. Following the movie Once, which won the duo Academy Award for their best original song “Falling Slowly” in 2008, Hansard and Irglova’s relationship escaped the construct of the screen and became apparent in real life. But the evolution of their relationship, growing from friendship into song-writing collaborators into lovers into bandmates again, occurred while the director shot footage and their growing popularity intersected.

What the directors, Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, were able to construct was an emotional, raw look at this relationship. Cast into the spotlight, Irglova, the quieter one and just 18, resists against the fame when she declines from participating in photo taking for fans. Yet Hansard, at 35, had already spent nearly 20 years with his band, the Frames, having dropped out of school and taken his guitar to busk at the age of thirteen. He was accustomed to, welcoming of, and gracious for, the fame and the fans because he truly worked hard for it. These differing expectations and experiences, plus the effect of the limelight, form a wedge that drives them apart.

Hansard is notable for being a very open, honest singer and storyteller on stage. In the film, we are given an even closer look at his life by way of his parents, both of whom have had significant impact in Hansard’s life. His mother, Catherine, is shown proud of her son, while his father, James, keeps walled away, protected by a moat of alcohol.

Overall, the film is an emotional and honest portrayal of an adored band. Through the inclusion of the Swell Season’s very personal and honest music, The Swell Season will allow an audience to experience some of the emotional rollercoaster the duo went through, as a band and as a couple.

The Swell Season

On the other hand, The Loving Story is more historic; its about love of course, between Richard and Mildred Loving, but also about the pivotal 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia which overturned anti-miscegenation laws in over a dozen states. The interracial couple married in the District of Columbia before returning to their home in Virginia. Here they were arrested for miscegenation and exiled from the state. As the Civil Rights movement gained traction, Mrs. Loving reached out to the ACLU to get their aid in fighting back. Eventually, the case reached the Supreme Court, which reversed the state court’s decision because “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

After reading about Mrs. Loving’s death in 2008, director Nancy Buirski set out to make the film about their story. Working on the project, she was incredibly lucky to find original footage of the Loving family in the possession of Hope Ryden, and we are equally lucky to be able to see it. With Ryden’s footage, plus footage from ABC and additional rare photographs from Grey Villet and other publications, Buirski is able to recreate the narrative using authentic voices. The documentary explores racism and fights for equality for all to love and marry; Mr. Loving’s words for the court are .

But even with the advantage of original footage, the film tries too hard and could use some polishing up. While The Swell Season was filmed in black and white to create a “transportative effect” and compresses time better than color, The Loving Story makes use of both older black and white film with more modern interview clips in color. Yet the latter film also unfortunately attempts to “recreate” scenes like sneaking into Virginia and getting out of the trunk of a car; and these scenes contrast poorly with the original footage.

However, a larger detriment was the inclusion of music almost at random in the movie. During an interview with Mr. Loving’s mother, annoying banjo music plays over the clip. At another point the wail of saxophone fills ears while near the end, some classical piece is introduced. But there is no music during other clips. Without the formation of a musical thematic structure, the mixing of all the styles fails to unify this documentary.

There is no denying the importance of Loving for its message and its historical importance though. The case is frequently cited in the contemporary same-sex marriage debate, in courtrooms from New York to California. Certainly, the Lovings never thought they were making history when they got married.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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