RESFEST '99 REVIEW: "Three Days" Makes for Overly-Long, Uninspired Tour
by Andy Bailey
“Three Days” is Carter Smith and Kevin Ford‘s full-length rockumentary of last year’s riot of the senses that was the Jane’s Addiction reunion tour, a bacchanalian art-rock orgy of writhing go-go girls, primping, bare-chested, leather-trousered guitar gods, and most of all pig-tailed, wine-guzzling crackpot messiah Perry Farrell jackhammering around onstage in a rubber skirt like an epileptic seizure sprung to life. In other words, it’s ideal subject matter for a digital video endeavor, owing to that medium’s terrific capacity for pushing the limits of color and motion within the filmmaking realm, not to mention tawdry, voyeuristic peeks backstage.
The handheld factor certainly lends the filmmakers easier navigability onstage and through the moshpit, not that they take advantage of it much. They leave that job to Cinquè Lee, Spike’s brother, who’s awkwardly employed as a host of sorts, sniffing around the Relapse tour with a cameraman in tow much in the same tedious manner as Spike Lee did playing the bumbling TV reporter in “Summer of Sam.”
“Three Days” features at RESFEST because a small portion of the footage — backstage shenanigans, daily life on the tour bus, hotel drama and whatnot — was recorded on a Sony VX1000 digital camera. The majority of the doc, including much of the actual concert footage, was shot on Super-8, 16mm and 35mm stock and it’s precisely what you’d expect from a rock documentary. It’s grungy crowd scenes of pumping fists, sexy rock gods in black nail varnish and endlessly noodling guitar solos. It’s vapid celebrity cameos (in this case, bizarre, blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em walk-ons by Alyssa Milano, Marilyn Manson, Val Kilmer and others), assorted backstage depravity — lead guitarist Dave Navarro might be a drug addict, but what’s certain is that he’s a raging prima donna — and the empty, masturbatory tedium of bus-life on the road.
What’s frustrating about “Three Days,” aside from the fact that its interminable running time suggests exactly that, is why on earth the filmmakers elected to use their digital camera so infrequently during the live footage which makes up the bulk of the project. Sure, lighting can be a problem for DV inside a medium-sized concert hall. But it’s more light than Thomas Vinterberg had to work with during the nervous d�nouement of “The Celebration” and we still knew what was going on there.
It’s precisely that gloomy, uncertain darkness that lends DV footage so many cinematic possibilities, and so much rock n’ roll ambiance. Because let’s face it, that absence of light is ideal for “Three Days,” considering the sordid “sex-is-violence” veneer that permeates many of Jane’s Addiction’s songs. This is a band that consistently explored the darkness amid sunny Southern California’s late Eighties post-punk and post-metal scenes, in which the group flourished, before burning out amid rumors of heroin addiction, internecine warfare and the cultish tendencies of Perry Farrell, whose larger than life theatrics and incessant ramblings make for effective documentary candy here.
In “Three Days,” we’re also treated to grainy DV glimpses of morning sunlight shot from within the tour bus that recall the worst Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe life-on-the-road hair metal videos of the nascent MTV era. How NOT to use DV, in other words. In one lurid bout of hand-held footage, however, presumably shot on DV (you can’t be sure which cameras are used where), raccoon-eyed Navarro fidgets around on the telephone in his hotel room, clearly under the influence of something, as he tries to convince an unseen caller that he’s not using drugs on tour.
It’s one of few addictive moments in a film that’s otherwise fraught with onstage and backstage rock n’ roll clich�s. The unflinching realism of this scene demonstrates why hand-held cameras are just as revelatory as the swooping, careening crane-perched monstrosities that have captured so many rockumentaries throughout the MTV era. Bigger isn’t necessarily better anymore. And scenes of confession and denial never look better than on digital video.
If Carter Smith and Kevin Ford were better versed in the medium they would have documented the Bauhaus reunion tour instead, using nothing but DV footage to show us that transcendent moment in live rock n’ roll when darkness actually becomes the light. But “Three Days” isn’t concerned with such matters at all. It’s a cock rock “Truth or Dare” that for a brief, fleeting moment whips out its willy and then can’t figure out how to make the damn thing work.