Werner Herzog’s fixation on wildlife is one of the most consistent ingredients of his films. So it should come as no surprise that the legendary director’s seven-minute teaser for the band’s recent YouTube concert features him asking members of The Killers, “Do you have wild donkeys on the strip once in a while?”
The moment is so perfectly Herzogian, it’s a shame that the featurette doesn’t run much longer than a couple of Killers songs.
It’s the latest incarnation of American Express’ Unstaged, a partnership with YouTube/VEVO that unites filmmakers and bands for special concerts that are broadcast and archived. Past editions have brought together Kenny Chesney with Jonathan Demme, Coldplay with Anton Corbijn, and John Legend and the Roots with Spike Lee.
Tuesday night’s concert (which is streaming on a loop here) doesn’t quite capture the same flair as Herzog does in the above video, in which each band member gets a chance to stare right at the camera (and into your soul). I can only assume and hope that Herzog was also responsible for the wording of the explanation for why guitarist Dave Keuning wasn’t featured there.
Overall, the series allows for a nice balance of sensibilities. Music documentaries and concert specials are nothing new, but the immediacy of these events seem like a logical extension of the form. The only restriction is that the concert venue only allows for so much innovation. The replay of last night’s Killers show allows you to toggle between a “stage cam,” a “control room feed,” and a “director’s cut” (where those wild donkeys would have been an intriguing addition but are sadly nowhere to be found). The wackiest touch is a drummer’s eye POV that gives a great view of a ride cymbal, but not much else.
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This year, two notable concert films have scored big with critics: Demme’s “Neil Young Journeys” and Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace’s “Shut Up and Play the Hits.” What made those films resonate from a critical standpoint was the effective balance of onstage performances with pre-show footage, offering a complete view of the artist (or at least one as nuanced as possible, given a 90-minute runtime). For Neil Young, it was the singer/songwriter being reimmersed in the Ontario town of his youth. And for “Shut Up,” it was LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy’s strolls through the streets of New York with his pet. So small, documentary vignettes like Herzog’s become the final piece to the puzzle if these installments yearn to be more than just an artfully captured live set.
So after Tuesday’s show, where should the Unstaged series go from here? Here’s a few director/band combinations we want to see.
David Fincher and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs: This just seems like a natural way to return the favor for lead singer Karen O’s version of “Immigrant Song” for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” soundtrack. Plus, it would be another way for Fincher to put his stamp on another aspect of the digital filmmaking process.
The Wachowskis and Animal Collective: After “Cloud Atlas,” the filmmaking pair might not be in a rush to get back behind the camera. But imagine what a live show with both synths and the “Speed Racer” might produce. Even for fans of neither, it would definitely be audacious.
William Friedkin and Tom Waits: Both men have a flair for the theatrical. Friedkin’s last two features (“Killer Joe” and “Bug”) have been adaptations of Tracy Letts plays and Waits once performed “Chocolate Jesus” on Letterman through a bullhorn.
Michael Haneke/Bela Tarr and Bon Iver: Granted, this probably wouldn’t involve much editing or camera movement, but does a song like “Blindsided” really need to be that flashy?
Steven Soderbergh and Justin Timberlake: The dance scenes in “Magic Mike” are some of the most entertaining sequences of any movie this year. Whether you admire the filmmaking quality or the visual stimuli, Timberlake has the performance chops and the track record that would mesh nicely with Soderbergh’s similarly versatile box of tricks.
M. Night Shyamalan and anyone: While he’s become a bit of a punchline, there’s no denying that his first few features had some impressive visual touches. Working with an artist or a band would inherently remove any need for dialogue, Shyamalan’s biggest recent Achilles’ heel.
What’s YOUR most wanted filmmaker/musician team-ups? Give us your ideas in the comments below.