Saturday, October 23, 2010

loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies

Unlike many of the classic rock gods and huge stars of the past, the misfits and underground bands (whether it be punks of the 70s, new wave and college rock groups of the 80s, or alternative/indie rock bands of the 90s and 00s) don't cry out for humanizing. Sure, it's still too-easy for critics and fans to put them on pedestals and throw around terms like “genius” and “brilliant”, but when I use such terms it's always with a foot firmly planted in reality. I don't think of these bands as flawless super heroes; I know they have personal problems and likely struggle to make a living. So I don't need to see those problems and struggles revealed in the clear light of day.

Before seeing loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies, I had a vague idea of what the band had been up to since its break-up, and even with my limited knowledge and assumptions, none of it was good. Drummer Dave Lovering and guitarist Joe Santiago had fallen off the face of the earth; Kim Deal put out Breeders albums at a very irregular rate; Black Francis aka Frank Black aka Charles Thompson had a long running solo career, but hadn't seen much acclaim or interest in almost a decade. As the documentary reveals, I wasn't far off. But while loudQUIETloud is valuable for filling in the details of what they've been up to, it unfortunately isn't a wholly satisfying examination of the why's and how's of the reunion.

Setting aside the issue of the band doing it for the money (who could blame them, since like other ahead-of-their-time acts they didn't get nearly enough love and cash back in the day), the band seem most interested in and subsequently shocked by how badly they were missed. Or, in some cases, how much they're now loved and embraced by young people who couldn't have caught them the first time. There's a real touching mini-story arc about a female fan who discovered them via a novel. She's interviewed and plays it a bit cool, but when meeting her heroine, Kim, she loses her composure. She's shown giving Kim her copy of said novel, which is touching and cute, and over the credits footage of her band performing a Pixies song is cut into and out of the actual Pixies playing the same track. This serves as perhaps the best summary of both how influential the Pixies were and still are, and how their music still sounds amazing today. What I mean is, young kids are being directly influenced by them instead of modern indie rock like, say, Wolf Parade or Vampire Weekend.

The personal problems and struggles of the Pixies before and during the reunion are surprisingly mundane. The implication of the unnecessary shots of a shirtless Frank Black is that he has gained considerable weight since the early 90s, and his flagging solo career of rootsy/country-ish music has gotten to the point that he is shown admitting to a producer that most labels have absolutely no interest in him. Kim Deal has struggled with drug and alcohol problems and is bizarrely shown drinking non-alcoholic beer in half the scenes she appears in. At the same time, she lives at home with her mother despite releasing well received Breeders albums with twin sister/care taker Kelley Deal. Joey Santiago, meanwhile, has a family and makes a living with his new band with his wife as well as by doing soundtrack work; he is the most stable and down-to-earth of all the Pixies by far. Perhaps the saddest story is Dave Lovering, who goes from being an eccentric, practically broke magician with long hair to being a harrowed, bald figure by film's end, dealing with his father's recent death by beginning to use pills and booze.

As not enough attention is paid to the break-up of the band or the story behind the union, the main point of loudQUIETloud is their music. The Pixies seem revitalized by performing again. Kim Deal is shown working on new music for the Breeders; Frank Black casually mentions the possibility of new music from the Pixies. Joey Santiago initially struggles with doing a soundtrack while on tour, but it goes better when he invites the Pixies to help out; Dave Lovering seems to have rediscovered music entirely, raving in one scene about how he can't stop listening to music, and in seemingly every scene he has a pair of drum sticks in his hands, banging on this or that surface.

In the midst of all their issues and financial motivation, loudQUIETloud succeeds as a film because it's about the music: the process of playing it, recording it, and loving it. The point seems to be, this is what really matters in the end. Not the break-up or reunion drama; not their personal problems and issues. The people behind the Pixies are fragile and human, but the music they made—that can never be humanized or brought down-to-earth.

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