Old MCN Blogs

By Stu Van Airsdale stu@moviecitynews.com

‘Awesome': Three Rappers, 61 Cameras and a Garden Party For the Ages


Admittedly, I am not what you would call a Beastie Boys enthusiast. I am not even a casual fan. The depth of my Beasties appreciation runs shallow at best: I like the “Sabotage” video as much as the next guy; “Fight For Your Right” annoys me; the hip-hop clown thing is endearing; and I tend to just take their (many) devotees’ word for it that the trio is rooted in prodigious creative genius. Fine.
I do watch a lot of movies, however, which is why I feel comfortable assessing the Beastie Boys’ Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! as possibly the greatest concert film ever made. A second viewing at last night’s New York premiere confirmed my first impression, and the standing-room-only audience attending the Museum of the Moving Image-hosted event seemed to share at least some of that judgment. Not that it came out when the Beasties themselves–“Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Adrock” Horovitz and Adam “MCA” Yauch–joined the crowd for the requisite post-screening chat.
“How do you stay in such great shape?” a viewer asked.
“As members of a basketball team, we have a very strong work ethic,” Horovitz said.
“We have a workout tape we’re gonna be selling,” Yauch said.
Diamond spoke up. “Actually, the team, I think, has a poor work ethic, and I think everybody needs to talk about that before we get into next season,” he said. “You guys talk about how you want freedom on the court. Show me the stats.”
“Also, we rub ourselves down with monkey piss a lot,” Yauch said.
That the Beastie Boys never actually got around to discussing how good their film is kind of helps define Awesome‘s transcendent appeal. The movie represents the raucous bastard offspring of goofball stunt and technical experiment; only a band that takes its mission as seriously as the Beasties do could conceive a film this determined to not take itself seriously. And only the Beastie Boys–whose interactive relationship with their fans manifests itself in multi-angle DVD’s and do-it-yourself remixes–would count on concertgoers to hold them to their own expressionistic standards.
Awesome‘s central gimmick is old news: The band gave 50 fans 50 cameras to record the entirety of its Oct. 9, 2004, concert at Madison Square Garden. “You can rock out, you can do whatever you want,” a producer advises the camerapeople at the beginning of the film. “Just keep shooting. … In 20 years, you’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Awesome; I fuckin’ shot that.’ ” The Beasties combined the crowd footage with that of a small backstage crew, and Yauch went to work.
“There were 61 different angles that we were cutting from,” said Yauch, whose other alias, Nathanial Hörnblowér, claims directing credit. “It was all loaded into Final Cut and stacked and we were cutting from that. It was a pretty crazy job. The way we started out was there were actually theee different editors who went at it, and they had 20 cameras each, and they each did a cut. We were kind of looking it over and picked some parts that worked. We did a cut from that, and Neal (Usatin, supervising editor) and I stated cutting on top of that, and then spent about a year working on it. It was a good starting place, because it’s pretty hard to start with just, like, a blank canvas and start cutting from nothing when you have that much material.”

Beastie Boy Adam Yauch with Public Enemy frontman Chuck D at Tuesday’s premiere of Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! (Photo: STV)

In the end, Yauch continued, Awesome comprises 6,632 cuts–an average of one for every 19 frames. It screens like a pixilated light show, drowning in color and kinesis, putting the “ADD” back in “addled.” Meanwhile, the rich, refined sound defies the visuals’ bootleg ethos. As occasionally challenging as this blend is to watch, it makes for revelatory viewing. No band since Talking Heads has preserved (or even established) such visceral identity while relinquishing this much aesthetic control.
But in downplaying posterity for the sake of experience, Awesome sets itself up as the anti-Stop Making Sense, the anti-Last Waltz, the anti-Woodstock, the anti-Gimme Shelter. Depeche Mode 101 trails a handful of fans on their journey to a landmark emotional event in their lives–DM’s 1988 show at the Rose Bowl–but Pennebaker’s film captures a sense of a moment more than any real sense of community. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party evokes moment and community as sort of a hollow auteur wet dream, with no less a force than Michel Gondry doing little more than pointing and shooting Chappelle’s swan song to swagger.
By placing them in the context of a genuine community (and if you have ever been to a sold-out show at the Garden, it is about as communal an atmosphere as 20,000 strangers are likely to find) Awesome de-mystifies its subjects. A man carts his running camera into the bathroom, while another tapes a concessionaire air-guitarring her way through the opening riff of “Sabotage.” One hapless woman turns her device on her relatively idle section, imploring, “Come on, get excited! We’ll be on the DVD.” Boyfriends shout lyrics in girlfriends’ ears, dances mimic each other. The most powerful stage presence, in fact, belongs to the Beasties’ DJ Mix Master Mike, whose showcases contribute the virtuosic complement to Yauch’s crude explosion of style.
That said, for all I lack in Beastie Boys knowledge, their film’s reflection of unhinged New York musical tradition is unmistakeable. “That’s the thing with growing up in New York City,” Diamond said Tuesday night. “I think at the time we grew up, it was like hip-hop was evolving, there were incredible punk rock shows, hip-hop shows, reggae shows. Everything was in New York City. And then at the same time, I think even when we started playing shows ourselves–opening up for Run-DMC and LL Cool J and all these bands on tour–we learned so much from them. Being able to study that and everything, that was like…”
Horovitz gestured into the audience, “For me personally, I don’t know if I’d be doing this if my brother never played me Jimmy Spicer’s Super Rhymes,” he said.
“I can name some shows,” Yauch said. “Like when Funky Four Plus One came Downtown?”
“Oh, yeah,” Diamond said.
“That was definitely a big deal,” Yauch continued. “Slits, PIL, Clash.”
“Gang of Four,” Horovitz said, nodding.
But are the Beastie Boys a continuation of that spirit? That is for their fans to debate, although I should not be so quick to pass the buck–especially considering Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That‘s influence, its magic and my slow assimilation into their ranks. For once, at least for me, the Beastie Boys are a sight and sound to behold.

3 Responses to “‘Awesome': Three Rappers, 61 Cameras and a Garden Party For the Ages”

  1. Looker says:

    The Metropoliticians

    The Beastie Boys have been my imaginary best friends ever since I heard their chef-d’oeuvre (imagine the fun they’d have making a song with that title). Still, I went into Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! thinking that its premise—a

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin