Reviews

Tegan and Sara: Tegan and Sara: Its Not Fun. Dont Do It! [DVD]

Tegan and Sara are firmly entrenched in the middle of the radio-friendly road . . . for now.


Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara: It's Not Fun. Don't Do It!

MPAA rating: N/A
Label: Sanctuary
UK Release Date: 2006-08-08
US Release Date: 2006-08-08
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

As examples of post-modern rock girls, Tegan and Sara Quin are about as rebellious as Hello Kitty. Their sound is somewhat sanitized, a commercial combination of Avril's anger, Alanis's aggression and Pink's provocation. In fact, they're so genial and good natured that the whispers resulting from their rapid rise to semi-stardom seem mean spirited and evil. Many have focused on the gals' declared lesbianism (making a few inappropriate incest jokes along the way) while others have concentrated on their rambling onstage banter, accusing the girls of covering up their lack of talent with the natural nervous reaction of endless chatter.

The truth of the twins musical acumen lies somewhere in the middle. They do make the Go-Gos look like The Slits, but at the same time, they are far removed from the whole Jessica/Ashley Simpson sibling source of aural atrocities. Over the course of four albums and a couple of EPs they have shown incredible growth as both tunesmiths, and most importantly, song stylists. They've developed their own approach to writing, relying less on gimmickry and more on personal emotion to sell their sentiments. The result is a collection of clever, poppy pronouncements that make up the vast majority of It's Not Fun. Don't Do It's live concert DVD document.

Really a souvenir to all the fans that have supported the gals over the many grueling years, this digital presentation is a solid overview of an act finding its footing in the demanding business of rock 'n' roll. Though they come across as sheepish, and sort of shy, both Tegan and Sara are sharp where their careers are concerned, and all throughout the bonus material featured here (commentary tracks, behind the scenes / making of documentaries) the pair provides insight into their most compelling business issues. Sure, a lot of the discussion centers on look, fashion, hair, appearance and other superficial subjects. But instead of being pure MTV icons, these woman want something far more important out of their 15 minutes of fame. They actually hope for an unlimited amount of time in the limelight.

After watching their hour long live performance, you could easily see such a temporal scenario playing out. Stripping down their sound to a basic five piece approach (guitars, bass, keyboards and drums) and relying more on band interaction and skill than flashy showboating, we get 13 solid songs that walk the border between confrontation and confection. Though its occasionally bathed in an aura of defiance and alienation, tunes like "I Bet It Stung", "So Jealous", and "This Is Everything" are the kind of ear candy the tween types slurp up like sugar soaked pixie sticks. In fact, it's rather obvious why the girls are frequently dismissed. Without really listening to what they have to say, they appear like interchangeable entities in a radio programmer's daily consulting report.

But there is much more to Tegan and Sara than merchandising tie-ins and demographically positioned appearances. These young women want to explore the basic foundations of their sound, to experiment and explore. During a marvelous look behind the making of their 2004 album So Jealous, we watch the duo creating their songs, arguing over their arrangements, and spending significant studio time meticulously attempting to recreate the sounds that they hear in their heads. Though this could all be PR phoniness, our young stars "acting" like talented tortured artists, the footage feels genuine. One of the most important aspects to Tegan and Sara's personality is their authenticity. It’s an element that captivated established acts, and eventually landed them on tour with Neil Young, The Pretenders, and Lilith Fair.

Still, Tegan and Sara are not the raucous riot grrrrls the pair would like to paint themselves as. Their music barely mandates such a sentiment, and their slightly silly videos (included here as well) careen wildly from goofy to Goth. The dichotomous approach to their public appearance is clearly show when comparing an early clip like "Speak Slow" to the far more moody "Living Room". The former is a funky little number featuring the band in reality show mode. We see them joking with each other, trading instruments, and mimicking individual idiosyncrasies. The latter has a look of a bad independent film, the frequent shots of the gal's downward glancing buffered by inserts of ominous clouds and dire horizons.

It's a visual schizophrenia that the girls have gladly adopted. During the commentary track accompanying the concert, we learn that the pair purposefully cut out all the onstage banter from the performances, believing that it "slowed down" the show. Truth is, many find their demeanor distracting from their clear live chops. As a result, they now come across as more serious and focused. But without the added element of their casual communicating with the audience, the girl's true personality is being purposefully avoided. Considering the extent of the media manipulation under which we live daily, such a nonchalant approach to reality is rather disconcerting.

Perhaps this is why the material found within this DVD requires such constant contextualizing from the duo. They defend the importance of the proper look while extolling their appreciation for European audiences (they have more "fun" than American crowds, dancing, singing, and -- most importantly -- clapping overhead). They recognize that for years their image has been haphazardly tossed in with all the punk pop poseurs, and want to make a name for themselves outside such a stifling sonic categorization. Even more curious, they never once mention their sexual orientation. True, 'straight' artists aren't filling up their digital curios with facts about how many hetero relationships they've had recently, but gay celebrity seems to spawn a sense of inherent activism. Tegan and Sara aren't out to be symbols, however. One could argue that they're barely 'out' at all.

Of course, none of this will matter to the twins' converted. The chance to see them perform live, to hear them comment on their own concert, to discuss the direction -- and disappointments -- in their music videos and the grueling pace of even a small venue tour will flesh out their façade nicely. Others, new to the duo, will see this as a pleasant if non-persuasive introduction to their music. Some of their songs are indeed memorable. A few rock like the fiery femmes the girls obviously admire. But Tegan and Sara are still firmly entrenched in the middle of the radio-friendly road. Taking risks will require a bit more maturity on the part of these just turned 20-somethings. Thankfully, they appear prepared for the relevancy task at hand.

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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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