Reviews

Green Day: Under Review 1995-2000 : The Middle Years [DVD]

Andrew Blackie

There is, against the odds, stuff in here which may interest the curious fan, but others had best move on.


Green Day

Under Review 1995-2000 : The Middle Years

Label: Chrome Dreams
US Release Date: 2007-01-30
UK Release Date: 2006-11-20
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Let’s begin by firmly over-emphasizing the importance of a DVD doing what it says on the box. On Green Day: Under Review 1995-2000 The Middle Years, under which is subtitled the ultimate critical review, and shadowed by a rather sophisticated photo of the three members themselves on a black backdrop, on the back is its list of ‘special’ features; ‘Live and studio performances’ and, ‘Obscure footage, rare interviews and unseen photographs.' As a blatant warning to all and any smart consumer/s thinking about reliving the middle slug of the band’s career, do not believe in how enticing that may sound; in fact, don’t read any of it at all, because that material is non-existent.

Notice also on the flipside at the bottom, the bold print which reads: This DVD is not authorised by Green Day, their record label or management. No wonder; Green Day: The Middle Years is the equivalent of a punch in the band’s face, and more of an egotrip to the opinions of the interviewees involved than a solid, standalone documentary about the impact the three piece had when they weren’t releasing their two zillion-selling albums, Dookie and American Idiot, respectively. If you haven’t heard either of those albums yet, get yourself an education before you continue.

The production, for better or worse, doesn’t rely on the latest in video transitions and special effects to get by; instead, the ‘documentary film’ sticks to basic, formulaic film-making, interspersed with short bursts of footage of either Green Day or their influences / contemporaries (add requisite five-minute discussion about Nirvana here, and unconditional admiration for the Ramones just when you least expect it), playing a song. A grating voiceover rattles off emotional facts in between, and sounds so clunky and monotonous by the end that sensitive viewers might actually have to cover their ears. And, it seems prudent to ask, what good is an hour-long documentary about Green Day’s catalog between 1995 and 2000 when a third of that time is spent rambling about Dookie (1994) and American Idiot (2004)?

Contradictions also abound among the panel of experts, who include a Rolling Stone journalist, the singer of a metalcore band, and the overseer of Green Day’s indie debuts (for the record, the latter has the most insightful things to say about them). To cover the three albums the trio put out in half a decade, Insomniac, Nimrod, and Warning, the program states importantly that “album” was unfairly overlooked, cuts to each critic who explain why it was overlooked and, if appropriate, tell us it’s their favorite Green Day record, and then zoom in on the two most well-remembered songs. The chapter on Insomniac begins with the voiceover reciting mirthlessly , goddammit, that the band were playing with a ‘darker, more confrontational edge’ (how? the key to Green Day has always been their sense of fun, even when they’re taking on politicians), only for members of the panel to assure viewers that the band have always stuck with their sound.

They offer us a fleeting suggestion that the instrumental “Last Ride In” from Nimrod uses a technique that is overlooked, but don’t tell us anything more about it, and read far, far too much into the underrated, primarily acoustic Warning. At one point the talk even turns to the pop-punk scene Green Day have influenced; but the Sum 41s, Blink 182s and Good Charlottes only get a shrug-off before the documentary leads us back to more Ramones talk.

There is, against the odds, stuff in here which may interest the curious fan. The rundown on the 924 Gilman Club, where Green Day played their first shows, is interesting indeed, and backed up by Winston Smith, the owner. The most insightful nugget on the DVD, though, comes from a band member fifty-seven minutes in, and reminds you how special and funny the trio are, and how normal this doco makes them sound; when someone who knew them recommends to Tre Cool that the video for “Welcome to Paradise” (a Dookie number, for those who don’t know) could contain a social commentary. The guy recalls; ‘Tre thought about it for a long minute, and he said “Yeah, we could do that... Nah, let’s drive a car into the swimming pool.”’

Maybe all this is being a little unfair on Green Day: Under Review 1995-2000 – The Middle Years. How else is one meant to review a band’s three lesser-known works, if not with a lifeless voiceover and a panel of experts? The answer: there’s nothing wrong with doing a documentary on Green Day, especially with noble intentions, but this can’t even hold a matchstick up to Bullet in a Bible in terms of the Green Day we’d prefer to see. So, back to what’s written on the box: if you’re going to promise live and studio performances, put them in a separate special feature and not in the main program. Or, at the very least, give us more than a few seconds to watch their music videos in the middle of it.

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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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