In this debut feature of director Kahlil Joseph (who has made a name for himself in the music video world) you won’t find out much about Arcade Fire or their new album. The Reflektor Tapes is not a concert film. It is not a backstage film. And it is not a road documentary. What is it then? We’re not sure yet, but something very similar to watching 75 minutes of hardcore 90’s MTV in a row.
With no apparent chronology, an experimental amalgamation of different times, places and other stuff, Joseph gives us an insane amount of colour clashes, crazy editing, sound bites cut in half and the best sound design of the year. Yes, it’s all about the sound. In the rare moments we are given some concert time, you feel the energy of the band, and the music pumps through your body. Those moments are exhilarating. Everything else, however, seems to fall flat on its face. Things that may work in a 3 minute music video feel obnoxious in a feature length film. We’re speaking of excessive use of filters, a play with colours that mostly feels like a cheap trick with no reasoning behind it whatsoever, and a constant repetition of footage (sometimes in colour, sometimes oversaturated, sometimes black and white – you get the picture) that tries to disguise the absence of proper content, message, footage, or even vision to make a proper film.
And yet, there is so much promise in the material we glimpse beneath the oversaturated grade. The band’s different reception in London and Haiti. Their philosophy and rhythm research. Their great concert performances. A more conventional director would probably concentrate on less, and give us a great musical portrait in return. As it stands, The Reflektor Tapes does not give much to those who don’t know the band, and even die-hard fans may feel cheated. The film’s device of cutting off short any time the audience starts feeling interested (whether a known song, or an interesting sound bite) is definitely as annoying as it is pointless.
If the objective of this film is to make us leave and go straight buy all Arcade Fire work on the iTunes store, it may have accomplished its mission. As a music documentary, however, it simply misses the mark big time. The band’s originality is badly served by a lazy, somewhat pretentious director. Afraid not quite my tempo.
The film was screened in London on 2nd September 2015 as part of the opening of the new Sonos London Studio (http://studio.sonos.com/studios/london ) It will have a limited release in UK cinemas from 24th September. For more information check http://thereflektortapes.com/