Music Documentary vs Concert Film

Get inside YOUR human condition

Boxer album by National – Get inside YOUR human condition

The Music Film Grows Up

It’s not enough, these days, to simply release a concert film. There’s nothing exciting about a gaggle of paint-by-numbers cameramen shooting the guitarist, singer and drummer from a variety of tasteful angles. No one’s going to be thrilled by a single crane shot over the crowd, not in this era of 24/7 music television.

And so bands are turning to filmmakers who aren’t just TV producers. There’s Martin Scorsese, whose Rolling Stones documentary is in cinemas across Britain. Sam Jones’ I Am Trying to Break Your Heart was a revealing portrait of Wilco at one of the most delicate periods in their career. And this year REM released a series of off-the-cuff films shot by French director Vincent Moon.

Moon in many ways exemplifies this “new” kind of music video. His Take Away Shows have followed bands such as Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and Stephen Malkmus through streets, rooftops, lifts and subways, always a single hand-held camera and a whole world of spontaneity. He even convinced REM to play along, shooting the band as they squeezed into a car and drove singing through hometown roads.

This May we’ll see the most complete picture yet of how Moon and his partners in crime imagine the music documentary via the melancholy Brooklyn band, the National. A Skin, A Night is a movie about the National, filmed during the recording of Boxer, their fourth album. But the press release makes it clear this won’t just be an indie-rock version of Behind the Music.

“A Skin, A Night is less a movie about the National than a movie about how music is made today,” it says. “Not with classic rock bravado, or debauched indulgence, but through novelistic attention to detail, a collective implosion of personality, and worried worried nights …”

“If the National’s lyrics seem to take us inside the human condition, Vincent Moon’s images take us outside, documenting the beauty of the sounds made by our human skin.”

Admittedly, it sounds a little precious. But at the heart of it, our relationship with music can be a precious, over-earnest thing. Not all of us have listened to a National album straight through, but most of us have stayed up late listening to a record on repeat, drinking a little too much from the bottle of whisky on the table.

A Skin, A Night will be released by Beggars Banquet on May 20, along with a bonus EP of unreleased, demo and live National tracks. Completing the synchronicity of influence, the National have been tapped to open part of REM’s upcoming American tour. The Editors and the Guillemots play the part when REM hit the UK in August. 9 April 2008