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Meeting People is Easy (A Radiohead Documentary)

Review by Jessica Brandt

I like movies about music; about bands. Hard Day's Night, Spinal Tap, The Song Remains the Same, etc. I like those little "behind the scenes" videos that bands put out with albums, like Pearl Jam and Ben Folds Five have. But nothing I have seen about rock stars- nothing- compares to this film about Radiohead.

Now, I was not a Radiohead fan until OK Computer. I liked their "radio" songs and could tolerate their first two albums. But OK Computer...well, to steal a phrase from everyone in the 60's...blew my mind. The album played like a movie (or a nightmare), and film maker Grant Gee must have seen it too, because from the belly of the OK Computer tour came this beautiful and sometimes horrifying film about the band Radiohead.

It's basically a documentary, which follows the band through their world-wide 1997-98 tour. Shot in eerie, dismal colors and black and white, Gee uses live concert footage, backstage snippets, and video of the band doing promotional "things" and being interviewed by everyone under the sun. He uses OK Computer songs as well as other Radiohead songs (released and unreleased) as the soundtrack, and overlays of press clippings and lonely pictures of moving highways to paint a sensory bombardment of life on the road for Radiohead.

I say this film is somewhat "scary" because it shows what happens to a shy group of English chaps who make music when they suddenly become the media's playthings. OK Computer rocketed up the charts with critical acclaim, but the band wasn't expecting it. Vocalist/guitarist Thom Yorke says in one interview "It's a sort of fascination to us that celebrities in America live on a higher plane. It's f*ckin' bad. It's really insane."

The boys of Radiohead seem more like a bunch of puppies who have been badly beaten by their master than superstar musicians. Shy and recluse, confused, and unable to love is what they seem to have become. In one scene, Gee shows Yorke alone in a New York hotel room, where on the window he has painted "I am not here and this is not really happening." The shot then focuses on a bug, crawling on the window, high up on the NYC landscape. Sad music plays in the background.

Can you blame them for the way they feel? They are not acting out like some other big rock stars have. There is no smashing of hotel rooms, no drug use or whores. Just five lonely boys who want to be artistically free in their music. True, in some parts of the film their bratty side comes out. Like when Yorke and co. are taping a remote "acceptance speech" for the NME Music Awards, Yorke is happy to be there but soon throws a little tantrum, claiming that he sounds "stupid" and that someone else in the band should do it. The other four members, obviously no strangers to Yorke's childlike outbursts, reassure him that he is fine, and stare at the floor embarassedly.

Much of the film focuses on Yorke, who is undoubtedly the most notable face (and interesting psyche) in the band. He is contrasted with the more optimistic Colin Greenwood and Ed O'Brien. Guitarist/keyboardist/little brother Johnny Greenwood is hardly seen, and drummer Phil Selway says not more than two things.

One part featuring Johnny Greenwood is him doing a phone interview in a hotel room. He looks thoroughly annoyed, and ends the interview by hanging up the phone. "Right in the middle of the thing he asks 'So, is Tommy always mad at life?' and I thought 'Here we go again.'"

Do you think everyone in Englad likes Radiohead? One anchor on a BBCSky channel comments on the incredible "No Surprises" video as "Oh, here's more music to slit your wrists to." While watching the video, her co-anchor quips "You'll like this part. He nearly drowns." Man, what ever happened to those polite British?

The taping of the "No Surprises" video melts into the BBCSky segment. If you recall, the video is simply a close shot of Yorke in a diving helmet that's filling up with water. He really is holding his breath, folks. I read he can hold it for a minute and a half, and had to hold his breath for 55 seconds in the video. The film shows him nearly drowning several times as they try to get the clip, pulling the lever which releases the water, gasping and sputtering for air. What that man won't do for art.

In this 90 minutes, you really get a feel of what it's like trying to be a serious musician in this crazy world of celebrities. Japanese girls sob as Johnny assures them he will be back in "at least two years time." Yorke sits for many a photo shoot, while flash after flash bombards him like WWI. In one scene, Yorke nearly breaks down. "It's bullshit. It's f*uckin' bullshit, Johnny!" he says. This sort of conflict gives this movie a plot. What does that mean when your life turns into a plot?

I can't tell you everything about Meeting People is Easy because i really want everyone to buy it. Or rent it. Or steal it. Something. See this movie, and see what we're doing to music in this world. See what music is doing to itself.

"Soon they start handing you cash," Yorke says "and you have all this money and you get used to this lifestyle and you don't want to take any risks because now they've got you by the balls.

"That's how they get you."


(Out of five)

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