Published Sep 18, 2015Award-winning filmmaker Kahlil Joseph's new documentary on Arcade Fire and the writing, recording and touring process behind their most recent album, 2013's Reflektor, may be a bit of a trying experience for those who don't already love the band.
Made up of home video footage of studio sessions and writing forays at home and abroad, as well as more professionally shot footage of the band on tour supporting the album, The Reflektor Tapes is far from a straightforward music documentary and more like a genre-annihilating visual and audio collage. Band members wax poetic about the recording process over shots of beaches and Haiti's Carnaval; rarely (if ever) is a song played in full, with Joseph yanking the viewer's attention away right when a steady groove starts to set in. Similarly, dialogue is usually clipped or faded into another snippet.
For those who already consider Arcade Fire a pretty pretentious group, The Reflektor Tapes simply adds fuel to the fire (the impact of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard on their recent album is mentioned by frontman Win Butler almost immediately, and may sound ridiculous to those who like their pop music without "intellectual" conceptualizing).
While early teaser trailers of the movie showed footage of them working in-studio with James Murphy, don't expect to find any good recording tips to glean from this film. Instead, The Reflektor Tapes feels like someone threw a profile on the band into a blender with their diary entries and tried to piece together what came out.
That's not always a bad thing; straightforward, chronological accounts of musicians working on their masterpieces in studio have been done to death, and there's something strangely engaging about the format of this film, even when some of the more interesting topics addressed — such as Régine Chassagne's relationship with Haiti and how it affected the band and the overall recording of the album, a theme that runs throughout — could possibly benefit from being described a bit more.
To its credit, The Reflektor Tapes is the rare kind of documentary that shows but rarely tells, allowing the viewer to try and make sense of an album whose creation was truly complex and, like most creative processes, hard to understand even when it tries to be put down into words or documented on camera. It remains a valiant effort.
(Arts Alliance Ltd.)