On those characters living on the edge and magnetic figures that we can’t resist watching
We are all strange when seen from up close; only some of us seemingly more so… more everything: more extreme, more undecipherable, more dysfunctional… Since the first edition of In-Edit we have seen the inner workings of an endless list of characters that genuinely live on the edge. They are magnetic figures; we can’t help but observe them. Unsure of whether it’s out of fun or out of a morbid sense of curiosity; to better understand their work or to gain a better understanding of ourselves – to gain an inner tranquillity: assuring ourselves that we are not alone in all of this; there is always someone worse off than ourselves. Each person has their motives.
Some lives seem straight out of a movie. Actor Geoffrey Rush was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott in the biopic Shine (Scott Hicks, 1996). When we see the real David twenty years later, fiction falls short. The documentary bears the name Hello! I am David (Cosima Lange, 2015) and it strikes us with the same frankness with which its protagonist would strike up a conversation with any stranger. “Hello! my name is David” – he says before surprising them with a firm kiss… or a hug … or both. And he tells them he is a pianist, or that he really likes tea and he asks them about their lives. The stranger, frightened at first, smiles and gives in. David Helfgott is as hard to resist as he is to work out, even from the perspective of science. What’s the matter with him? Who is that strange man who behaves like a child and who plays the piano with that extraordinary intensity, as if his life depended on it? Is he ill? Has he been blessed? Is he a genius? And what must life be like by his side? His wife tells of how David proposed marriage on the very first day they met; his professor explains how David had to learn to play the piano all over again after a decade locked up in mental health institutions. People cry at his concerts… and the director of Hello! I am David wisely takes Hefgott’s hand and lets herself be lead.
Everything about Japanese rock band X Japan is so extraordinary that the director of We are X (Stephen Kijak, 2015), being more than used to off the scale stories and characters – having been responsible for the Backstreet Boys’ bitter-sweet reunion and the portrait of Scott Walker–, claims that this may well be his last music documentary. He has no idea what there could be left to tell after this… Is he exaggerating? The story of X Japan, Japanese modern music legends who are greatly unknown to the rest of the world is a hyperbole in itself. Suicides, collective catharsis at a national level, insufferable pain – both moral and physical–, never ending drum solos and a band that invented a language –visual kei– at the mere cost of paying for it with their lives. Kijak tells the story in Manga format as this is the most plausible treatment for a story that, told any other way, would seem incomprehensible.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land (Rob Alexander and Steve Read, 2016) comes down to a human scale to show us a man who, almost forty years ago, was an android star of dark, unfathomable and hermetic pop and who now confesses all of his fears before a camera with a disturbing yet admirable sincerity: Stage fright, fear of finding himself alone in a room full of strangers, fear of never being able to write a new song, fear of a life without Gemma, the groupie who became his wife and his rock. Fear, but also excitement: the thrill of recognition by admirers such as Trent Reznor, the thrill of being a father to three girls born against all medical prognosis and the thrill of moving to Los Angeles, his very own “La la land”.
Sparklehorse’s music conjures up a different kind of darkness, more so after the death of its author, Mark Linkous, who committed suicide in 2010. The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse (Alex Crowton and Bobby Dass, 2016) is especially painful as it’s made from a close distance. His friend and colleague, singer-songwriter Angela-Faye Martin conducts a film which is in itself, a mourning process. This may be another reason that we are attracted to documentaries on people living life on the edge. For they are a modern ritual; for, sat before the screen in the company of those odd yet strangely close people, we reflect on them and we reflect upon ourselves. –ROGER ROCA