Reviews

Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic Part 2 [CD + DVD]

Dan Nishimoto

A literal makeover, Everything Ecstatic Part 2 offers a visual counterpart to Four Tet's latest album.


Four Tet

Everything Ecstatic Part 2 [CD + DVD]

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2006-01-24
UK Release Date: 2006-02-13
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In a recent concert review, Tom Breihan called RJD2's set the "go-get-a-beer part of the show." In spite of the excellence of the music in establishing atmosphere and the extensive set-up the producer employs, he noted simply, "it's not fun to watch someone play records." While superficially hilarious, Breihan's comment also summarized the dilemma of the DJ performance: the lack of a compelling visual focus. While disc jockeys can establish an aural reputation on radio, the club/concert DJ has had to revamp their set. Certainly, addressing/berating the audience, as well as selecting songs that reflect the overall mood are obvious tricks of the trade, but these still fail to attract the eye.

Perhaps in partial response to this popular sentiment, DJs have adapted to their (potential) superstar status by adopting visual aids. Certainly, artistic license plays a role in this natural collaboration: the Bay Area's Future Primitive Sound Session crew consistently blend beats, rhymes and visual depictions of life for their DJ and graffiti parties. That said, let's be frank: beat-makers and beat-matchers could use a little help from a flashy friend. Subsequently, it comes as little surprise that DJs are seen these days. Well, maybe not the DJ him/herself, as they may be hidden behind a mountain of machinery. But a DJ performance can now come with moving images, light displays and maybe even a dancer or two, in addition to the zigga zigga.

What does this all mean? In truth, I am still likely to be found at the bar with the other Breihans as soon as the needle hits the groove. That is not to say there aren't some notable efforts being made.

Kieran "Four Tet" Hebden has addressed this visual need, albeit through recorded means. Everything Ecstatic Part 2 culls video interpretations of each song from his fourth and latest album Everything Ecstatic. Directors such as Jodie Mack, Dan Wilde and even Hebden employ narrative ("Smile Around the Face") and non-narrative ("A Joy", "Fuji Check") approaches, ideal for both home entertainment and use in a live performance setting. As such, the transitions between pieces are loose, at best, making the DVD more of a collection of inspired images rather than a visual counterpart to an album. Not to mention the brutal sword of subjectivity in this arena: after all, what visual for a piece of music can match the imagination?

In spite of this understandable scrutiny, Everything Ecstatic Part 2 is both an engaging experiment and an enjoyable romp. Several of the films capture the exposed nerves and raw emotions at the core of Hebden's music -- the soul that is often obfuscated under layers of cerebral and technical virtuosity. Wilde's superb "Smile Around the Face" uses counterpoint to illustrate the song's weathered soul. As the skip-in-the-step beat pulses and the helium-high vocal swirls, a salaryman trudges through a day in his modern world. While the character unfolds as his nerves become rattled, the tiniest gesture provides sanctuary just as the song disintegrates. Wilde's vision is conventional yet unique, familiar yet unexpected, making it a highlight of the collection. Similarly, though with a far more amateur hand, Hebden brings "You Were There With Me" to life as a looping slideshow of his travel/life-mate bounding sans expression across the world. Although the settings change drastically, the oddly stoic movements of the subject match the Gamelan-like percussion and sparkling chimes. Be it with such quiet tranquility or with the melodrama of "Smile", the best moments of Everything Ecstatic Part 2 offer a charming perspectives on the colorful world of Four Tet.

Of course, some films find a questionable parallel with Four Tet's work. Woof Wan-Bau digs up "Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions"'s sense of menace and uncovers an eco-blind Goldie Locks tale-gone-wrong. While craftily twisted on its own, the video perhaps reveals too dark a side for Four Tet. Meanwhile, Jason Evans turns "Sun, Drums and Soil" into a mundane montage of spinning spheres and passing taxis, hardly building off the song's slow boil. Yet, however on or off base each vision may be, they are also consistently distinct and singular. In addition to a bonus CD of five non-album cuts, Everything Ecstatic Part 2 offers a welcome look for Hebden. Hopefully his future live shows take a similar nod.

7

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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