Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: Yes: 9012 Live (1985)

Yes: 9012 Live is not a narrative film. It is a concert film. Its enjoyability is largely dependent upon the person liking the band. I do not. I will attempt to offer insight by comparing it to the nearest thing I can think of…

Rick Springfield’s Beat of the Live Drum.

9012 begins with stock footage from a 50’s something-or-other about machines or music… some ridiculous illustration on how people don’t really act, I don’t know, followed by a bunch of weird special effects that imply this concert is taking place in a coliseum. In space. Then Yes plays for a bit. Their music is very shitty. Except for maybe "Hold On."

Beat of the Live Drum begins with a similar special effects shot of the exterior of a stadium, dark and shiny with a giant video screen that is too easy to realistically see. Rick Springfield begins to play. Their music is also shitty. Except for "Living in Oz."

Song after song by Yes is interrupted by strange special effects, our POV wandering down the Stock Footage Hallway, nightmarish collages of unrelated things, complete nonsense, exactly like Yes’ music. These things along with weird wipe-transitions disrupt the rhythm early on. Yes plays music as cameras film them. The crowd is obliterated by the harsh lights filming the stage and you have to wonder if anybody is actually enjoying the show.

Rick Springfield’s performance is supplemented by well-timed lighting, arcing cameras that mostly come in from below, and canned shots of an overacting audience in a soundstage miles away and filmed separately.

Much of the difference is here. Beat of the Live Drum is a product, one that comes in a slick package meant to sell the image of the band by making them look good and sound good (they’re miming, goddammit, they have to be!). Fincher makes them look like gods.

With Yes: 9012 Live, it eventually becomes clear that Soderbergh’s limited/failed approach produces one admirable thing: honesty. Yes sounds like they are supposed to sound... live, off-key, imperfect. There is nothing resembling a tarted-up lie, outside of the special effects transitions and the split-screen. What you can see of the concert is how they really look, however stupid, but only as long as you ignore the editing. Which brings me to…

Soderbergh’s Director’s Cut
For the DVD release, all of the special effects have been excised. The split-screens remain. Things are edited differently but I wouldn’t say better. While it is easier to focus on the actual concert, the camerawork and directing fail to sell the band as good performers or competent musicians. They look dead. I guess that's Yes' fault too.

Access All Areas
Also for the DVD release and far more interesting, and OH MY GOD it actually has some recognizable Soderbergh traits. Lotsa jump cuts and at least one shot that looks like it was taken out of Traffic. No dead weight, really; band and crew acting goofy before a gig. And Soderbergh even manages to capture some pretty heavy moments post-gig, a line "The magic is gone..." or something similar. That this not intercut with the above concert, The Last Waltz style, is a huge missed opportunity.

MTV 1’s growing empire in the 80's must have fueled these type of “films,” or hour-long advertisements for artists. The most flattering thing that can be said about them is that this is where at least two good directors have gotten their foot in the door. Soderbergh, however, appears to have saved all of his experimental gusto for other projects. Here, learned what not to do.