The View From Here

The Stones, Neil Young and Patti Smith -- Berlin Film Festival report

Michael Bonner

Stephen Dalton brings you his first report from this year's Berlin Film Festival...

Guten Tag from the 2008 Berlin film festival, which is already shaping up to be more like a gathering of gold-plated Glastonbury headliners than movie makers and shakers. The ROLLING STONES have stopped the traffic, NEIL YOUNG has bashed George Bush and PATTI SMITH strummed her guitar during the press conference for her new film.

And we are not even halfway through the festival yet. Among the delights to come later this week are
MADONNA’s feature directing debut and a documentary on GORILLAZ.

But first, Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert film SHINE A LIGHT, which opened the Berlinale with the kind of frenzied red-carpet scrum usually reserved for Oscar nights and high-level Mafia court hearings. Scorsese has used Stones songs on half a dozen soundtracks going back decades, of course, but this is their first official collaboration. “When I first heard them, I said I’m going to get that on film one day,” the director announced in Berlin. “It’s only taken me 40 years or so.”

John's already blogged on Shine A Light, so let's just concentrate on a couple of highlights.

Buddy Guy’s stomping, wired, screen-hogging guest appearance on “Champagne & Reefer” takes the Stones right back to their teenage blues-fan roots. And the spontaneous moment where Mick and Keith embrace around a microphone during “Far Away Eyes” is unexpectedly moving, like two ageing divorcees briefly reconciled while sifting through their old wedding photos.

That said, there are other music documentaries in Berlin that outshine Scorsese’s Stones
film. Though clearly made on much smaller budgets, they deliver far more in terms of emotional range, political bite and artistic ambition. Neil Young’s CSNY: DÉJÀ VU is a lively, witty record of the veteran folk-rock quartet’s 2006 reunion tour, when they played Young’s antagonistic, anti-Bush album Living With War to angry and often hostile crowds.

“The film thrives on antagonism but not me personally,“ Young told Uncut on Friday. “That was the most hair raising, nerve wracking, terrible experience. I don’t want to do another tour like that! I’d rather be playing with the Rolling Stones.”

Also eye-catching is Steven Sebring’s PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE. This intimate, impressionistic portrait of the proto-punk goddess features an all-star background cast including Bob Dylan, Michael Stipe, Sam Shepard, Bono, Thom Yorke, Flea and others. Smith played a low-key Berlin gig at the start of the festival, and seemed on grandstanding form when Uncut met her on Sunday.

“Rock’n’roll belongs to the people,” Smith said. “When I started playing rock’n’roll I couldn’t sing very well, I didn’t play any instrument, I didn’t know anything about technology, I’d never been in front of a microphone. I didn’t know shit. But I did know rock’n’roll was mine. I was one of the people and it was my art.”

Outside the rock-doc field, the 2008 Berlinale film selection has failed to yield any real treasure so far. But your Uncut reporter was impressed by the new Shane Meadows drama SOMERS TOWN, a bittersweet snapshot of childhood friendship made with teenage audiences in mind.

Reuniting Meadows with his charismatic young This Is England star Thomas Turgoose, the film has an unusual origin. It was originally commissioned by Eurostar to help commemorate on screen the area around London’s new, high-tech St Pancras rail terminal. The station and Eurostar figure in the drama, but only incidentally, with no hint of product placement.

That’s all for now. Check back here in the next few days for a first look at Madonna’s directing debut, Mike Leigh’s latest comedy and further Berlin bulletins…


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