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Scott Walker - 30 Century Man

 

by Stephen Kijak, Mia Bays & Elizabeth Rose (producers), David Robertson (co-producer),
Gale Harold (associate producer) and David Bowie (executive producer)
Screenings on October 31 (NFT1) & November 1 (NFT2), 2006
At the National Film Theatre, London

 

ImageOn both days, the Film Festival's programmer (and Morrissey look-alike) Michael Hayden introduced Stephen Kijak and Mia Bays to the stage. On Tuesday Stephen was dressed very suave (suit & tie etc.: he happened to mention that his parents were in the audience, hint hint); on Wednesday, arty French chic was in fashion! Not that it bothered me, just wanted to mention it.

 

Although the documentary somewhat defied a chronological order, it was not really a problem. But then, I am a fan. I can understand that someone who is not would really have to go with the flow to find out how what is so special about Scott Walker.

 

One thing I did not really expect were visualizations for songs from Tilt and The Drift. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open, as I often listen to Scott with my eyes closed... and imagination wide open; being in the dark(ness), as it were. Yes, this was still a problem for me during the 2nd screening. My hairs always stand on end upon hearing "STILL COMING THROUGH!" on "Clara". Hearing that through such large speakers? Good Lord! Major chills across my spine.

 

There’s a split-screen scene where you see both Angela Morley (né Wally Stott) and Peter Oliff listening to "Montague Terrace (In Blue)" is very endearing. (Stott arranged and conducted the song, Oliff engineered it.) This was brilliantly structured, one of the best bits in the documentary, without a doubt!

 

But what of the artists who pay homage to Scott Walker, I hear you ask? Just some of the most important artists in pop music past & present, ranging from David Bowie (also executive producer), Brian Eno, Marc Almond (Soft Cell), Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Sting, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Gavin Friday, Alison Goldfrapp (Goldfrapp), Lulu, Ute Lemper, Dot Allison (One Dove), Simon Raymonde (from Cocteau Twins fame & son of Ivor Raymonde, who arranged many of the Walker Brothers’ hits), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Cathal Coughlan (Fatima Mansions), composer Hector Zazou and sax player Evan Parker to several member of Radiohead (Ed O’Brien and the Greenwood brothers).Quotes by some of these artists were compiled in the booklet of the 5CD box set Scott Walker in Five Easy Pieces (2003).

 

You catch the famous fans in honest moments, once again listening to Scott’s material (but this time in front of a camera) and reminiscing, observing things about Scott’s music on the spot. This is a specific format Kijak has chosen, and it plays out wonderfully well.

 

Marc Almond's outcry ("I hate Tilt!") is also so honest that it becomes funny. No one has to wonder what he makes of The Drift.

 

A personal highlight for me was the footage with Dot Allison as I'm a fan of her (work) and I think she does not get enough recognition for her music. During the Q&A on Wednesday, it was revealed that Dot has performed a cover of a Scott Walker song for Stephen which will be an extra on the DVD as Stephen could not fit it into the movie (which makes sense). The song in question is the above-mentioned Montague Terrace (In Blue) ! Wow.

 

Another lovely moment is the split-screen where Dot Allison and Simon Raymonde listen to Rosemary and Two Ragged Soldiers , both from Scott 3 (1969).

 

One of the questions during the Q&A on Wednesday was simply "Why Sting?!" followed by a burst of laughter from the audience. I was starting to wonder about that myself, from the first moment I read he would be featured in it; thankfully his contribution is very brief. Stephen's response about North American audiences most likely being interested if Sting would be featured in this seems to make sense... even though my personal opinion is that it would have been best that he wasn't featured in it at all. It’s nearly the kiss of death.

 

Brian Eno (who recorded work with Walker that was never released commercially) takes a completely different route, as always, by noting Scott’s compositional and lyrical skills.

 

David Bowie tells a story about a girl he knew in the sixties who was infatuated with Scott’s records… and not his! (One can imagine how frustrating that must be.) But he kept listening and swiftly started liking them as well. The fact that he acted as executive producer for this very documentary speaks volumes.

 

Quite frankly, I was relieved that the other Walker Brothers aren't featured in it. Of course, there were questions about why they weren’t featured. But if you want to see a Walker Brothers documentary, I’d say make one yourself.

 

Kijak was one of the first to capture Scott while recording in the studio. The material from The Drift’s sessions was often funny, pretty contradictory to what you may expect. Those who know a bit about the sessions for this album know that for Psoriatic, a huge box was built in the studio to record some sound effects, and that a huge slab of meat was used as a percussion instrument for the song Clara. For the latter, you get to seethe very take that was used on the album.

 

Personal note: I wanted to chat with Stephen Kijak for a bit after the 2nd screening, fortunately he hung around to talk to people close to NFT2. Good thing too, as suddenly I was shocked to find out that one of them was none other than Alasdair Malloy! His lovely partner (at least 1 foot smaller than him), standing on his right, saw my reaction, pointed to him and whispered softly to me "the meat basher" LOL I checked myself swiftly, said his name proper and mentioned that it was an honour to meet him after which he graciously shook my hand. I remember Mr. Malloy saying to Stephen that he was quite pleased with how the footage of the above-mentioned moments was edited in the documentary. After that, Stephen chatted to a woman who (if I eavesdropped correctly) was a representative of Sony BMG who was pleased with this documentary. I felt that I should not have a part in that conversation so I had a short chitchat with one of the other producers, Mia Bays, instead.

 

All in all: a documentary that aptly portrays The Artist Know As Scott Walker. From 50s teen singer to 60s twenty something pop idol to 70s MOR crooner to cult icon. It should be noted that the emphasis lies (as it should) on Scott’s creative highs (late 60s & 80s until the present), but it doesn’t shun some of the lower points in Scott’s career either. Archive footage was admirable handled and edited creditably in the documentary with more recent footage, although I thought that the footage from Leos Carax’ movie Pola X (for which Scott Walker wrote the soundtrack) was a bit scratchy.
It can soon be seen in cinemas in the UK and it will be made commercially available on DVD (with several extras!) in February 2007.

 

Review by Robert van Gameren, 2006

 
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