Sleeping Nights Awake at Sound Unseen
In preparation for Sound Unseen, kicking off this Thursday, MN Dialog will review many of the documentaries that are part of the fest. The documentary Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake screens on Thursday, October 23 at 9:15 at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis and again on Friday, October 24 at 9:15 at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis.
Reviewed by Elwood Fisher
As a celebration of the alternative rock band, Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake builds an impressively intimate portrait out of performance, backstage footage and interviews from July 4th, 2006.
The film, produced by teenagers, uses a deliberately static and sloppy composition in its photography that matches Sonic Youth’s music and aesthetic while depicting them at their most candid. With the disjointed and all-telling eye of a home movie, it demands honesty from its subjects.
Presented in black and white, the gritty and hard-edged imagery quickly leaves the realm of amateurish cam-cording and becomes visceral and abstract, complimenting its aural counterpart. Many rock-performance films tend to rely on excessive cutting, presumably out of an effort to generate a complimentary rhythm to the music. But Sleeping Nights Awake features lingering shots that lend themselves to a more detailed and honest portrayal of Sonic Youth.
That is not to say that all the shots drag. Rather, sequences of lengthy shots are punctuated with sensibly rhythmic cuts and screen compositions, generally in tandem with live musical performance.
Direct soundboard recordings give it a live soundtrack of great quality, which boosts the production value to the point where it should be considered a complete and self-validating filmic representation of the band, whether that be performing live, preparing, or simply shooting the breeze. The choice not to show the audience during performances also reinforces the sense of intimacy. They may as well be playing on a stage in the recess of the screen before you.
Whether a fan of Sonic Youth or not, the film makes for enjoyable viewing and may inspire an elevated appreciation for the band. However, the abundant self-description found in the many interviews with the band gives too much room to the debate concerning the band’s ideals. A camera-wielding teen at one point observes “that’s very artsy.” In an eloquent response, Thurston Moore responds, “We’re an artsy band.”
Sonic Youth has no doubt solidified their place as a definitive band of their era of origination, artsy though they may be.
As for the band’s position in the contemporary American music scene, the film addresses the issue, perhaps accidentally if not a deliberately. In one particular scene, a wall in a venue in Reno, Nevada, is combed over for its various signatures left by acts that have graced its stage. Most of the acts could arguably be past their respective primes. One of several local Sonic Youth fans then remarks about how the venue serves as a place “where bands go to die.”
I assume Sonic Youth would beg to differ, if they would reduce themselves to trying to change an audience’s opinion. Left with the feeling that I now know them on a more personal level, I would suspect they wouldn’t be concerned with such matters but concern themselves instead with the demands of the music.
Elwood Fisher is a screenwriter/actor/musician based out of Minneapolis. Originally from the small slice of Americana known as Eyota, MN, he has come to Minneapolis seeking simply a larger pond. An avid fan and proponent of mixed martial arts and organic and local farming, Elwood advocates, in all areas of life and culture, the mentality of “thinking globally and acting locally.”