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Home of the Brave: A Film By Laurie Anderson

Posted by martinteller on December 2, 2012

I’ve been a Laurie Anderson fan for a long time.  Big Science was one of the first compact discs I ever owned, with one of the most inexplicable radio hits ever, “O Superman”.  I never got around to seeing this movie, although I did at one point own the soundtrack.  At last I’ve watched it, and it’s reinvigorated my interest in Anderson, and encouraged me to seek out her later albums.

This concert is mostly taken from Anderson’s second studio album, Mister Heartbreak (performed almost in its entirety).  I love that record, too, although I do wish there was something from Big Science on it.  But we’re treated to a few excellent new pieces, and “Difficult Listening Hour/Language is a Virus” from the massive United States Live project/album.

Anderson is loosely described as a performance artist, but she doesn’t have much of the “random self-important nonsense” connotation that term implies.  She is a sublime musician and composer, embracing both technology and multicultural rhythms in a fashion reminiscent of Peter Gabriel (a collaborator) and Talking Heads (whose Stop Making Sense is the peak of the concert film format).  Her songs employ intricate rhythms and memorable melodies, and rarely approach anything like unlistenable noise.  She’s also an innovator of musical invention, and here she can be seen using her tape violin, synthesizer necktie, vocal filters and drum machine suit.  The latter provides the film’s low point, amounting to nothing more than “Check out my toy!”, but it only lasts a minute or two.  There’s also Adrian Belew’s rubber guitar, which is nifty but thankfully he puts it away before it gets too annoying.

And then there’s the showmanship of the event.  This is a show I wish I’d seen in person.  The song “Smoke Rings” starts as a Spanish game show.  Anderson dances a tango with William S. Burroughs.  There’s some witty stuff on the screen at the back (that I wish we’d seen more of, I feel like I missed a few good bits there).  There’s dance and costume changes and telephone skits and Anderson’s spoken word interludes — more stand-up comedy than anything else, with her fine sense of storytelling and wry observations.  Anderson comments on the absurdity of modern society without nihilistically condemning it… there’s a cynicism, but it’s a playful cynicism, acknowledging that we’re all part of what makes this world so nutty, our hangups and conventions and communication problems.

I loved watching this and don’t have an excuse for waiting so long, except that it’s not easily available.  Hopefully it will be released on DVD some day.  Original and highly enjoyable, showcasing Anderson’s unique sensibility and marvelous talents.  Rating: Very Good (87)

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