Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties

What happens if a bunch of humans are stripped of their rationality and critical thinking abilities, electrified beyond the point of recovery with high-voltage music (and non-music), and let loose en masse to collide into one another for several days in a village?

I think I just caught a glimpse of that unsettling scenario tonight at a Milwaukee Film Festival offering. All Tomorrow's Parties, a feature-length documentary, captures the annual U.K. rock festival of the same name, for which various leading bands "curate" each year's acts. Named for a Velvet Underground lyric, the ATP festival was conceived as a counterreaction to the creeping corporate control of youth culture and music -- so sayeth the painfully inarticulate kid interviewed in one clip -- and by the usual metaphoric extension, as a critique of all society, man.

Staging a festival without overbearing corporate sponsorship is laudable. When you do that, however, the best act you can get just might be Iggy and the Stooges. That's okay; the real action in ATP is in and around the decrepit resort dormitories, which look like the worst two-level, exterior-entrance motels that you've ever stayed in. Here, beyond the obligatory Intermittent Spontaneous Musical Occurrences, we're treated to clips of drunken post-partiers wandering around aimlessly, peering into other people's rooms, and falling through cheaply constructed second-floor balconies. Before you can attend tomorrow's parties, it would seem, you have to survive today's first.

Anarchic and chaotic as the music festival itself, the documentary cobbles together miscellaneous film clips gathered from numerous attendees and participants over the years. Like the festival, the film seems not so much curated as thrown together. The only concession to the left-brain that craves information and a semblance of order is the briefly displayed band names, with curator and festival year, for a number of leading acts. The director overuses a multiple-windows technique for concert footage; somebody must have thought it looked really cool back in film school.

I didn't like many of the bands, but so what; it's no longer my generation's turn. Choppy editing aside, All Tomorrow's Parties is a fair depiction of a significant youth music gathering, now sprouting offshoots around the globe. A cultural time capsule, I suggest it be suitably buried for posterity. Perhaps in velvet. Definitely underground.

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