Seeing the Chemical Brothers in 2007 was a mind-blowing pleasurefest of sight and sound. All I need to do is close my eyes and I’m instantly shot back to that surreal moment in time. And that experience was one of the reason I had high expectations for Don’t Think.
The other reason was that Don’t Think is the first time a Chemical Brothers concert had been captured on film seem and after reading the initial press release I was gearing up for an amazing cinematic journey that would blaze a new path in live music movie-making. But, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. And there were a few things that left me wanting more.
Now, I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t get the chance to see the movie in the theaters when it debuted earlier this month. So instead I watched a screener copy on my macbook, which was fine because after seeing my share of concerts in the theater I could imagine what it would be like to see this film on the big screen.
As it turned out not being able to see it on the big screen allowed me to focus on the storytelling, which was the film’s biggest let down for me.
As we’ve explored before with the Grateful Dead Movie, the Last Waltz and Woodstock, those are all classic concert movies because they all tell a story. They capture the essence of that specific moment in time, and show you what made that moment between the band and the fans worthy of capturing on film.
Those concert docs tell you the historical significance of why you’re watching this concert months, or even years, after it happened.
If you weren’t there to experience the show firsthand, a concert movie should tell you why and how the fans and the artist lives were changed during the concert. But, sadly, Don’t Think doesn’t do that.
And even though much thought and 20 camera would used to shoot it, I still felt like I was watching a series of YouTube videos stitched together instead of an emotionally moving cinematic journey through a unique live music moment in time.
Would it have been better to experience Don’t Think on the big screen in a theater with hundreds of other fans? Sure, but the immersive theater experience wouldn’t have made up for the lack of storytelling. And I’m sure had I been in the theater, it would have been similar to what happened at during Dave Mathews 3D.
This was the first time a Chemical Brothers show was ever captured on film and I expected it to tell me things about their live show that I didn’t know yet. I wanted Smith to take me on a new journey.
I wanted to see the electronic music pioneers in way I hadn’t before. I wanted to hear them talk about what moves and inspires them during a show. I wanted to discover the details behind those awe-inducing visuals that coming racing at you during the show. But none of this was woven into the fabric of the movie.
This is a movie created for the big screen and I was surprised at how much was left up to the viewer to fill in and how little directoral storytelling Smith did. And there was no setting the stage explaining why this Fuji Rock Music Festival was worthy of capturing on film.
The other thing that bothered was that the movie didn’t tell us anything about what it means to experience a Chemical Brothers concert as a fan.
Yes, there were several shots of fans smiling, screaming and rocking their brains out to the big beats and hypnotic electronic rhythms. But again, a lot of concert movies, and YouTube clips, do that.
Mixing the fan story, the band’s performance and the emotional ebb and flow between the two, is what makes films like the Grateful Dead Movie, The Last Waltz and Woodstock classic rock docs. Those films go deeper to tell the historical context of that moment and most importantly, they vividly tell the fan stories so even if you weren’t there you completely understand (and feel) why that concert changed those fans’ lives forever.
Director Adam Smith he has been creating the concert visuals for the Chemical Brothers for the last 18 years. But I was disappointed because there wasn’t anything unique about the vantage points that drew me in or took me to new places. The press release made me think that the film was going to explore the local culture and essence of Fuji Rock, Japan’s largest outdoor music festival, but I didn’t walk away with a sense about what made this concert different from going to Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo or Coachella.
I will say that it was interesting to read this article by Val Siebert of Quietis.com who talks with Smith about his inspiration and artistic struggles to make the film.
According to Smith, theatre groups such as Punch Drunk and Secret Cinema have got the right idea: plays that go on around a wandering audience rather than in front of them. “I think taking the tradition of just watching the stage and breaking that down is really exciting. That’s the next level. I’d love to make the visuals come to life, like suddenly you have clowns tapping you on the shoulder and taking you off on little adventuress, or having every bit of the music represented by a different character. “The only problem with turning a documented gig into an immersive art installation is that it involves trusting that the spectator will see what the director wants them to see – an idea that might not sit well for many people in the profession, Smith included. I bring up the idea of customizable footage, like Muse’s interactive stream of a Wembley Stadium gig a few years back. Fans could choose from seven different cameras and even adjust the angle of each one. Smith sounds almost disgusted: “I’ve heard people talk about taking old footage and letting the audience choose which camera they view it from, and I just thought, ‘You know what? That’s what I do!’ I’ve been putting cameras in places and editing stuff for 20 years. There is a craft to it. I mean, not to put [customizable footage] down, it’s interesting, but it’s just not my thing.”
Siebert then makes this point:
It might seem a little controlling to assume that the audience doesn’t know best what they want out of an experience, but who better to record the spectacle than the man who created it in the first place? Don’t Think is a film about Smith’s own work that recreates the experience in the way everyone on that mountain in Fuji was meant to have it.
Siebert and Smith makes several good points in the article. But I still wish Smith would have taken more artistic gambles because, even though Don’t Think delivers on the visual and sonic spectacle that is the Chemical Brothers live show, the film ultimately leaves me thinking so much more could have been done to celebrate the fan stories and tell us how that night in Japan changed thousands of fans’ lives forever.
Did you see Don’t Think?
Tell us what you think and share your Chemical Brothers concert experiences and thoughts about in the comments below, on Twitter @livefixmedia, on Facebook , Google Plus, or call the concert fan hotline at 773-609-4341, and we’ll include them in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.