Students' film does justice to rock band
By Jack Frink
The Austin Film Festival presented a special screening on June 26 of "Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake," a black-and-white concert documentary covering the seminal American rock band's performance in Reno, Nev., on July 4, 2006.
The film was an undertaking by Project Moonshine, a program that teaches filmmaking techniques to high schoolers in the Reno area and then sends them to document important social events in the city. While this initiative would seem to be the kind of thing that would only work on paper, the viewer quickly forgets it was shot by amateurs. The concert shots give you all the angles you want, and the framing is very expressive.
"Sleeping Nights Awake" winds up being a very effective concert documentar - an accomplishment that owes much to the editing and direction of Michael Albright, who was in attendance Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek for a post-show question-and-answer session. When asked why he chose to go with black and white over color, Albright said that, along with it corresponding to the title, black and white seemed to capture the band's performance better. Albright was correct: The stark black and white works with the venue lights to match the drive and sturm and drang of Sonic Youth's sound.
The performances have the power and accomplishment one would expect of a 25-year-old rock act. It helps that the band performs many of its most accessible songs - "100%," "Kool Thing" (arguably the film's highlight) and "Incinerate." Sonic Youth is obviously very supportive of the project. When the band speaks to the camera, with only drummer Steve Shelley abstaining, the results are uniformly interesting. Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Mark Ibold are all charismatic people. This film could make someone a Sonic Youth fan.
Finally, the audience for this concert: Even though the members of Sonic Youth are mostly in their 50s, their fans are as young as ever. The people working the cameras aren't the only high school students in attendance. Interview sequences with these young fans speak to the group's longevity. It's a great, somewhat surreal moment when Moore asks one of the cinematographers how old she is. "Oh, I'm a junior," the girl answers. Later, after the concert, another young camerawoman says, "What a great 4th of July!" She isn't
Albright discussed hopes for a DVD release after the credits rolled, and hopefully a deal will be worked out.
This is a treat for documentary buffs and Sonic Youth fans alike. It's definitely worth the rental if it ever pops up on Netflix.