Saturday, 26 May 2007

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Stephen Kijak
Screenwriter: Stephen Kijak
Runtime: 95 mns
Certificate: 12A
Release: Out now

Cinema has always been the prime medium to eulogize the figure of the rock star. Whether in the form of fiction, biopic or documentary, cinema loves the lone swagger of figures like Bob Dylan, Anton Newcombe, Johnny Cash and Jim Morrison. It is a stage where these figures can enter into pop-mythology, where their stories become even more larger than life and celebrated than before. Yet in the age of mass media can any rock star preserve their aura of mystique and myth surrounding their public persona? Documentary filmmaker Stephen Kijak answers a resounding ‘yes’ with Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.

Once a pop moppet lusted after by the youth of 60s Britain, Scott Walker abandoned the jangle pop of the Walker Brothers who had hits including ‘The Sun Aint Gonna Shine Anymore’ and became a reclusive figure favouring the avant-garde. Walker has never been interviewed on camera in decades, and Kijak has unprecedented access both in and out of the recording studio and the results are fascinating. The opening credits feature disembodied voices pondering the nature of Walker’s career and compare him to Orpheus, heightening seemingly beyond anticipation what we are about to witness, but Kijak does not disappoint.

The career trajectory of Walker is fascinating and we follow from his pop beginnings, solo career consisting of MOR rock and Jacques Brel covers, to his transformation into genuine artist. His contemporary sound is somewhere between Wagner and Nine Inch Nails, and while the film never convinces that they are worth purchasing and listening to repeatedly, Kijak’s visual presentation offers a satisfying engagement with Walker’s difficult output. Watching him record his music, which is compared by one rock journalist to experiencing your own birth or murder, is fascinating. He beats metal trashcans, punches a cow carcass and utilizes the howls of a donkey as his percussion. It could almost tip into the Spinal Tap arena, were it not for the extraordinary coming together of these elements into song. Walker himself is also a genial and un-pretentious individual, aware of the absurdities of his work but gifted with the ability to speak about it so eloquently that comparisons to Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon are convincing.

Kijak also expertly conveys the anorakish nature of being a music fan. Instead of firing off questions, he plays Walker vinyls to high profile fans such as David Bowie, Marc Almond, Jarvis Cocker and members of Radiohead. It’s a wonderful moment to watch them re-experience some of their favourite songs, and is also a great introduction to the variety of music Walker has created. The film works as a companion piece to Ondi Timoner’s criminally under seen DiG, showing another side to the story of a talented artist trying to make it on the fringes of the corporate music industry. Regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, whether you would ever buy one of his records or not, this is a terrific and riveting portrait of a one of the only 60s music figures still producing ground breaking work.

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