Once presumed to be nothing more than a joke band destined for one-hit wonder status with their white-boy frat-rap epic “Fight For Your Right (To Party?),” the Beastie Boys confounded all the naysayers and went on to be one of the most significant musical groups of the last fifteen-odd years with their fascinating rap/rock fusions and their equally inventive music videos. Therefore, I went into “Awesome, I Fuckin Shot That!,” the band’s first full-length concert film, with higher-than-normal expectations that they would somehow shake up the usually staid performance film genre and come up with something as brilliant as their other work. Unfortunately, the resulting film is a near-total disaster–an ugly, annoying mess that will wind up testing both the patience and the eyesight of all but their most dedicated fans.The gimmick behind the film is an interesting one from a conceptual view–fifty fans attending a 2004 Madison Square Garden performance were giving Hi8 video cameras to shoot whatever they wanted for the duration of the set–the only requirement being that they could not stop filming once the show began–and their footage would be edited together under the eye of director Nathaniel Hornblower, the nom de plume for group member Adam Yauch. The idea was to provide a sort of official bootleg video of the show and while the film does have a few shots that appear to have been professionally done, the vast majority of the film gives us shaky and blurry footage of the band from various distances and angles (punctuated with plenty of crowd shots and an all-but-inevitable trip to the bathroom).
Unfortunately, what might have been intriguing as a five-minute video is absolutely excruciating at a feature-film length. The footage that the fans captured is not particularly involving and is so blurry at times that the simple act of watching the film becomes a real chore. More distressingly, there is never a time when the film conveys either of the things that the best concert movies can achieve–a sense of the connection between the artist and the audience (like what can be found in the extraordinary “Neil Young: Heart Of Gold”) or a feel for the excitement of the actual event (as was achieved in “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”). The film tries to compensate with a hyperactive editing style and various visual gimmicks meant to provide the excitement that should have been captured in the actual performance footage. Only during the concluding song, a blistering version of “Sabotage” (dedicated to George W. Bush), does the music push through the cruddy visuals in order to reach viewers, but most people will have long given up on the film by that point.What is especially distressing about this film is that the Beastie Boys have always been among the most inventive musical acts working today in terms of presenting their work in visual terms that have experimented with the boundaries of the form (it wasn’t for nothing that the exclusive Criterion DVD label put out a collection of their videos). This film, on the other hand, is a failed experiment that looks and sounds exactly like what it is–a crappy bootleg video that is being released to squeeze a few more bucks from sure-to-be-disappointed fans. It does sound great, however, so the best thing to do might be to wait for it to come on DVD and simply play it as if it were a CD and simply ignore the visual portion.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.