Just had the pleasure of taking in the new Scott Walker doc, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man. I can’t recommend it enough. Lots of great moments, but for music heads out there, the biggest complement I can give is that it’s a music film that is all about the music. Did Scott drink? Don’t know. Did petty rivalries fuel The Walker Brothers break up? Don’t know. The film steers clear of the personality crises, the tales of drink and drug debauchery and focuses solely on the music. Each incarnation of Scott is given a thorough examination—The pop wunderkid of chart toppers The Walker Brothers; The first four solo records with their ornate 60’s production and Jacques Brel-fueled lush melancholia; The Walker's comeback and the re-emergence of Scott as a solo artist; and finally, the newer, darker Scott Walker.
Walker, who has been fairly reclusive for much of the last 20 years, comes across as charming, affable and well spoken in the interview which serves as the spine of the movie. Additionally, the film is filled with incredibly articulate interviews from musicians who were Walker’s peers or who have been influenced by his singing and songwriting. Eno, Bowie, Julian Cope, Marc Almond, Jarvis Cocker, Radiohead and Lulu all weigh in. There are great moments in the film where the music just plays, accompanied by some iTunes visualizer-like effects. It may sound cheesy, but rarely in these kind of docs do you just get to listen to the music. Similarly, there are some nice moments where we see some of the above musicians just sit and listen to Scott Walker records. 15-20 seconds will go by while they listen, enthralled by the sounds, before dissecting the track in question and analyzing the songwriting, the production, or the vocal arrangements. It’s a really nice touch.
The last ½ hour is a bit long for my likes as the film delves deep into Walker’s most recent offerings Tilt and The Drift. These two records are blacker than black, gothic, and melody-free albums that I personally find unlistenable. Their sound is claustrophobic and as a result the film follows suit. Unfortunately, the only time Walker let film cameras into the studio during his solo career was during the recording of The Drift, so it’s no surprise we spend a lot of time there. And to be fair, the recording process is a trip. Percussionists punching sides of beef and lots of weird set-ups to record sounds. Walker seems giddy during these sessions, a far cry from the persona he puts forth on these records. But that said, I’m more of a fan of what Julian Cope refers to as the Walker Brothers “MOR slop”. I’ll take it over the odes to Mussolini’s, strung up, dead lover any day.
But I highly recommend.
NOTE: Great review of the film and a thorough overview of the Walker career at my friend Val's blog Beyond Asiaphilia. And for what it's worth, we saw the movie together.