The experience of live music is an incredibly difficult thing to describe to someone else. A review can artfully praise the execution of particular songs, a photograph can capture the enthusiasm of a band, and a film clip can provide a taste of the energy onstage, but nothing replaces actually being at the show itself. Filmmaker Andi State seems to grapple with this problem in Suuns Europe 2011, where she attempts to relay her experience of Montreal band Suuns’ 2011 European tour. State’s film is a messy collage of personal thoughts, clips from shows, and various other “in-between” moments of the tour. It includes several captivating moments, but these are overshadowed by slightly cringe-inducing poetic efforts and predictable montages of European scenery. The fifty-minute film ends up being less of an intriguing glimpse into the world of touring, and more of a disjointed and confusing collection of a fangirl’s ‘artistic’ video diaries.
It is a Thursday night at the Plant, and Suuns Europe 2011 is being screened as a joint presentation with Passovah Productions. Copious amounts of popcorn circulate the half-full room as the audience is submerged into State’s vision of Suuns – a vision that is immediately underwhelming. Though the concert clips are intriguing, State is too eager to tell you all about what it’s like to tour with a band. She includes many unnecessary shots of mundane moments: a couple band members standing around on curbs with their gear, smoking cigarettes; another band member’s bag of toiletries, viewed from various angles; and too many images of sleeping musicians to count. State’s attempt at a blasé attitude quickly wears thin; her delight in being behind-the-scenes is uncomfortably palpable as she gets caught up in these dull clichés. Be it the Parisian streets at night or the Alps glimpsed from a train’s window, State’s depiction resembles a much-too-lengthy photo album of your friend who backpacked through Europe last summer. You know it must have been cool to be there in real life – but you just can’t be bothered to relive it all with her.
Above all else, though, State’s poetic murmurings in between scenes are an unwelcome distraction. At times they are just awkwardly boring, but several are downright unappealing and out of place. For example, a long monologue lists various ways of dying she sometimes “thinks about:” we are forced to listen to her hiss “asphyxiation” and “drowning” as she ruminates on life’s inescapable end. These interludes might have been entertaining if State had either poetic talent or an intriguing voice, but unfortunately she possesses neither, and these moments result in nothing but questioning eye contact between audience members.
The film’s redeeming moments come in a few of the snippets from live shows. Suuns’ hypnotic, forcefully pulsating songs are appropriate for the dark, gloomy venues in which they are performed. Much here is due to Jeremy Gara’s sound design, but State does do a fair job of faithfully presenting the perspective of an audience member. The camera glances over various band members, lingers for a few moments on particular instruments, and scans the crowd of fellow fans. Constantly flashing lights provide a familiar sense of disorientation. The final song of the film spirals into a glorious climax of sound and energy, echoing the absolutely enthralling feeling of hearing your favourite song live.
This is perhaps the film’s only strength: it makes you want to be at a Suuns show. My sole experience seeing the band live was two years ago, when I heard the last few songs of their set at Osheaga– a show that did not do them justice. They are not meant to be listened to in a sunny field on an early August afternoon; it is the sort of music you need to immerse yourself in completely on a late night in a crowded room. With regards to the movie, lead singer Ben Shermie seems quite indifferent, and insists that State was really just “a fly on the wall” during the touring process. He does add, however, that the band would have been less inclined to agree to the film had State’s vision been something more involved, such as a more traditional tour documentary with interviews. When asked if the film recalls specific tour moments, Shemie offers a half grin and points out that there are “a lot of feet” shots, which obviously could be from any night. State’s concert clips do often take Suuns’ shoes as a focal point – to be fair, exactly what is at eye level when you’re in the front row – but the effect quickly loses its lustre.
Perhaps this is a good way to describe the movie as a whole: one fan’s perspective, but ultimately, not much more. Skip the film, and see the show instead.