Clean and Music


Clean is the film, music is what it’s about, that’s why I love it.

One of my favourite articles is a piece written by the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas for The Village Voice, a New York based newspaper. In it he talks about his personal, almost idiosyncratic relationship with music, and how it is music, more than films, that inspire him creatively. As Assayas himself puts it, ‘music more than cinema gives me the most intense artistic emotions.’ When he makes films he tries to direct with the same energy as a musician creating music, willing his love of music to be obvious. He wants his films to be a “homage to what music meant to (him) during his adolescence.”

THE MAN!

THE MAN!

I love Assayas as a director because I admire him as a person, admittedly I’ve only seen three of his films – although I know I’ll appreciate every film of his that I do see because I respect him so much, unless he directs something seriously offensive – but within each of the films I could see his love of music. Irma Vep, a film about remaking the silent classic The Vampires, has a thumping soundtrack that matches the frenetic energy of the film set in the picture. Demonlover, about an internet conspiracy, has an improvised soundtrack by Sonic Youth, with contributions by Assayas himself (he played guitar).

Clean, premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, is a film about music, it is also about addiction, regret and forgiveness. When her husband Lee Hauser, a faded has-been rock star from the eighties dies of an overdose, his wife Emily – already vilified for ruining Lee’s career, think of her as being one part Yoko and another Courtney* – takes blame for his death and spends six months in prison. In short, she gave him the heroin he overdosed on and is thusly blamed.

Emily is released into a world which is cold and distant, she is held accountable for Lee’s death by the public, most of her previous friends, her father and mother-in-law and her son Jay. To mend her fractured relationships, she must rebuild her life and become Clean.

Beached as...

Beached as...

Assayas has himself stated in interviews that the film isn’t about drugs, it is about music, he has selected a contemporary story and then matched with a form of art that he feels has world-wide appeal, one that he connects the most with. This connection is apparent with his attention to detail, the energy behind Metric’s performance at the start of the film is beautifully captured, the hand held cameras that are just metres from the stage give us the feeling that we are there, as do the reactions from the crowd and the close-ups of the band members performing. The fashion also, is spot on. It is obvious that Emily, Lee and their friends are all musicians, and the residence that Emily shares with a friend is perfectly suited to their lifestyle. All the characters in the film are fans of music, even the secondary ones are seen listening to tunes, and some of the actors also are played by real life musicians. Metric are a band heavily inspired by Lee’s music, they give a performance at the start, and then talk backstage about his relationship with Emily and their son Jay. Tricky plays a long-time friend of Lee’s, and another person who blames Emily for his death, and David Roback of Mazzy Star plays a music producer at the end that cuts a demo with Emily and a friend of hers.

Assayas has also captured the mood behind music, the way it can inspire you and make you feel, this is hard considering the elements that go into making a film. After she arrives in Paris, Emily catches up with a friend (almost the only friend that still talks to her) and gives her some demo tapes to listen to that she made whilst in prison. They begin to play a game of pool while her friend listens to Emily’s demo, and as they sink their balls, and lean against a wall, and drink while waiting for their turn, and then lean forward to take another shot – this is one, almost continuous take – the music is the only thing we hear. It’s one of my favourite shots, I’m always talking about this shot, or that scene, but this one is officially the shiznat, because Assayas has captured something that’s totally real. How many times do we go walkies, or buy something, or do anything with music blaring in our ears and not really think about it. Assayas has done well to get that on film.

Maggie Cheung as Emily

Maggie Cheung as Emily

Those who dislike the film could accuse it of being too stylised, perhaps too ‘Greenwich village’ and maybe a self indulgent wank on Assayas’s part (“look at me, look how incredibly immersed I am in the Paris music scene. I can call Tricky and have him do a part in my film”). Its true that for a poor, recently released prisoner Emily does have a pretty awesome wardrobe, and her scooter is amazing too, it wouldn’t be ‘rock n’ roll’ enough for her to be riding a BMX or a unicycle and the house she is ‘forced’ to share with a friend is an amazing, Parisian villa, as opposed to being commission house or a crappy unit. Yet it is these little excessive details that make the film what it is, a living breathing testament to music. I know the film is flawed but I love it for this reason (Assayas should have spent more time on the screenplay, so as scenes didn’t appear so random) but with the picture Assayas has satisfied his own tastes……and mine.

*Personally I don’t think that Yoko and Courtney had anything to do with ruining John or Kurt’s careers. John was in his peak – song writing wise – when he was killed. Him and Yoko used to tie each other up with twine and eat chocolate cake in a sack but that’s cool, and I once saw this footage of Yoko blindfolded and knitting a scarf, and that was pretty bizarre but….whatever. And In Utero is better than Nevermind (even though I’m the only person to think so). Also I read Who Killed Kurt Cobain? And I still think that Kurt killed himself and the Courtney had nothing to do with it, despite all the ‘evidence’ to the contrary. But then Kurts suicide did suck, it made some people think that the ’teen angst’ thing was everlasting and that it wouldn’t go away, despite all the money and fame. So if you makes you feel better to think that Kurt Cobain was murdered then that’s cool.

P.S. Grunge didn’t die when Kurt Cobain died……

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One Response to “Clean and Music”

  1. That was fucking sick. I need to see this film. I had no idea about the Metric connection. Crazy times!!! Good work Euge!

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