Scott Walker: 30 Century Man Directed by: Stephen Kijak Cast: Scott Walker, David Bowie Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: Unrated Release Date: May 16, 2009
Plot: It's a documentary attempting to explain the life and work of Scott Walker. From his early career as a member of swingin' '60s boy band The Walker Brothers to his later incarnation as a avant garde singer/composer, the film tries to make sense of Walker's career.
Who’s It For? Viewers should probably have an interest in the popular music of the latter half of the last century.
Expectations: I was really excited by the list of interviews in this film: Jarvis Cocker, Dot Allison, Alison Goldfrapp, Johnny Marr, Radiohead and David Bowie are all performers who I admire. I figured that if they all liked Scott Walker, he was worth looking into.
Scott Walker as himself: The filmmakers make it clear that Walker's a notoriously reclusive fellow. Though he is interviewed for the film and seen in the studio, he's a hard man to understand. I don't mean that he mumbles, but that I never get a sense of who he is. How did this pop singer become a composer of such bizarre music? He seems candid, but his segments are edited into tiny bites that I can't get a lot of information from. I'm left feeling confused. Score: 4
David Bowie as himself: Much of the film is composed of interviews with artists who worked with or were influenced by Walker. Bowie's only one, but he gets extra points for being an executive producer on the film. Bowie's such a chameleon, but he seems totally natural in this interview. I wish someone would do a documentary on him. Score: 7
Talking: A lot of the dialogue in the film comes from various talking heads. They fall into two camps, people who have worked with Walker and fans of his work. Altogether, the filmmakers are more successful at getting people to open about why they enjoy Walker's work than anything about the man himself. Score: 6
Sights: Long segments of Walker's compositions are set to animation with the lyrics scrolling by. It's an interesting choice, but doesn't really work. It was more interesting when various people are shown listening to Walker's compositions. Score: 5
Sounds: As should be the case in any music documentary, large amounts of the artist's music are played throughout. Sometimes, too large. Long segments of Walker's more experimental pieces are set to impressionistic video shows in a way that sometimes stops the film dead. Score: 5
Best Scene: I found Jarvis Cocker, David Bowie and Alison Goldfrapp to be really interesting. Their insights were clearly thought out.
Ending: I could have done with the film ending about a half hour sooner. That's when I started to get bored.
Questions: Why did Scott Walker's music change so dramatically? Why don't the filmmakers explore why he moved in the direction he did? Why does Brian Eno seem like an ass?
Rewatchability: Unless you love Scott Walker, probably not.
OVERALL I really expected to enjoy this film, I like so many of the artists featured and normally I love music documentaries. But Scott Walker's a hard film to like. The beginning worked, it was a standard "Behind the Music"-type rise to fame story. But as Walker's music became more erratic, so did the focus of the film. The film fluxuates between interviews with Walker, talking heads discussing his music, and the music itself. Walker speaks, but he's never really forthcoming about why he changed so dramatically as a musician. He sees it as a natural progression, but listening to his music, it seems anything but natural. His later material veers off on the point of dissonance with some of the most obtuse lyrics I've ever heard. And that's when they're comprehensible.
The interviews with people who are fans of Walker tend to be more interesting. Alison Goldfrapp has a love/hate relationship with his music. Another interviewee mentions hearing one of his albums at a listening party and absolutely hating it. And these are his fans. The man makes music that teeters on the point of being unlistenable and this feels like the elephant in the room. I don't mean to suggest that there's nothing worth liking in his music, or that no one could like it, but the film posits that Walker should be a more respected artist without really exploring why he isn't. His music is difficult, almost unlistenable at times. Though it's hinted at, it's never discussed. WIthout that, you're not really making a thorough exploration of the man's music. The film never feels whole. Final Score: 5/10