From its almost Lynchian beginning—filled with seemingly random cuts, out-of-focus shots, flashing lights, and swirling points of color at a live show—it’s clear that Feist documentary “Look at What the Light Did Now” won’t be your standard rock doc. Instead, director Anthony Seck’s project quickly sets itself apart with an aesthetic that veers between art film and hipster craft fair, a tone that perfectly matches Feist’s own music, itself a mixture of polished and smartly produced tracks and earthy, quirky additions. It takes the music documentary standards of touring and recording and combines them with elements that would seem more at home at the Whitney than your average indie rock concert.
“Look at What the Light Did Now” begins with the title track, Feist’s cover of the Little Wings song, and it ends in similar fashion, begging the question of which came first, the song or the film’s content, which often focuses on light and shadow. The documentary is more poetry than prose, disregarding chronology as it first chronicles the tour for Feist’s 007 album The Reminder, then rewinds to its recording in a French studio, jumping back to 2004’s Let It Die, and finally circling back to The Reminder tour. Even the purposefully fractured narrative sometimes takes a backseat to less structured interludes featuring montages of (perfectly positioned) Polaroids and album art.
Anyone who is only familiar with Feist from the iTunes-ad-induced poppy hit “1 2 3 4”—admittedly not the audience for the film—will be surprised by the level of creativity present in every area of her music and live performances. A sterile studio is jettisoned in favor of La Frette, a sprawling mansion outside Paris, and the distinctive sounds of songs such as “My Moon, My Man” are created beyond the bounds of normal recording.
In describing her work, Feist says she wants to make “to make visible what is audible,”but she’s not the only one working toward this goal. Feist is the stage name and ostensibly the solo project of Leslie Feist, who has worked with Kings of Convenience and fellow Canadians Broken Social Scene. “Look at What the Light Did Now” reveals an artist still very much in collaborative mode. Of course, frequent collaborator and album producer Chilly Gonzales is present, but crew members who normally reside strictly behind the scenes get a starring role here, including lighting designer Mitch Mazerolle and The Reminder tour shadow show designer director/perform Clea Minaker. Going beyond the standard videos projected at concerts, Minaker creates unique art in mediums as diverse as shadow puppets and finger painting with clay. It’s hard to deny that this is anything but art, and it makes the efforts of arena-dwelling acts look lazy by comparison. Minaker will take your choreographed flashing lights and raise you a perfect composition that is hand lit by her and her helpers.
“Look at What the Light Did Now” has a sense of fun (it’s hard not to feel your heart lift when watching the colorful masses dance in “1 2 3 4” or Feist float out the window in the video for “Mushaboom”), but it’s unsurprisingly serious at times. Each person who contributed to The Reminder‘s recording and its tour doesn’t hesitate to delve into art theory and philosophy. There are no tales of no rock ‘n’ roll debauchery here; instead the interviewees discuss heady issues such as self vs. shadow and meaning vs. vision. Though the film sometimes veers toward pretension, it’s hard to get too annoyed since the people involved are just so damn sincere and genuinely joyful about what they’re doing. They believe they’re creating art, and after witnessing both the creative process and the final product, it’s hard to argue. “Look at What the Light Did Now” is currently screening and will be released on DVD in the U.S. on December 7. [B+]