Festival Express

Last night we saw the “world premiere” of Festival Express. It was a whole fancy premiere event with a lot of media around, a red carpet on the sidewalk, security, guest lists, reserved seating sections, and a fashionably late start. I described the film briefly in another posting.

Here was our second time in a week to be in a room with famous rock star types: a bunch of folks from the Dead (Bob Weir, Bill K, Micky Hart, Phil Lesh) and Eddie Kramer, famous produce/engineer. And a serious aging hippie contingent, making the coastside people look like, well, coastsiders, not hippies. Patchouli, hoo yeah.

The film was a rather poorly-thought-out documentary. It basically followed the musicians on the train trip, with playing concerts along the way. Recent interviews with some of those in attendance were used to provide some reflection and some context.

But the interviews were terrible: only the event’s producer had any personality and told any good stories (and he was awesome – comb-over, bad posture, a Eugene Levy character from the old SCTV). Everyone else said “It was a special wonderful time” and other bullshit soundbites. There were scant moments of actual personality in these people who were there at the time, and being a professional interviewer, I’ll blame their interviewers, not the stars/journalists themselves.

As a doc, they didn’t do a lot of interesting stuff in how they put it together, everything was rather belabored and obvious – shots of kids fighting with cops while rock music plays on – yeah, we’ve seen that before – can you show it to us in a new way?

The most compelling stuff, as the stories implied, was what happened on the train – so why didn’t we see it? There’s bits and pieces of jamming, and one great drunken session with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Janis, and ? Rick Danko ? but I wanted much more. I wanted to get a sense of what it was like on the train, and they talked about it, but didn’t show it.

Now, the fact that the film got made at all was a miracle, so maybe footage existed at one point that they could have used to do this, or maybe they just didn’t know how to film a “backstage” event like it was front-stage. I wanted Don’t Look Back type of moments that really shed some light on these people and this event.

Most of the film were musical performances from the concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary. And some of them were amazing – the only really bad part was the strange vibrato Sylvia Tyson was using to sing CC Rider – I was in agony for it to end, not sure what was up with that.

If you watch musical peformances on TV/video, you know that they can’t have a static shot anymore, it’s all rapid cutting that takes you out of the experience, so it was amazing to see Janis Joplin go nuts on a big screen in unflinching closeup on her bad skinned visage. You got a lot of time to be with the performers and watch them do their thing.

Even some of the Dead stuff was pretty groovy and it’s not really my thing.

I have more bad to say than good, I guess, because the film could have been incredible with a bit more vision…I was disappointed but I absolutely enjoyed it. The musical performances that touched me (and they absolutely did, very strongly) were worth it.


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