I want to take you back to 1991.
Intellectuals are no longer the patrons of Ivy League colleges, but flannel sporting undergrads, spewing out Vonnegut and Orwell not for the sharing of insight but to get into the stomach-high blue jeans of their female counterparts. The second coming of Christ has yet to come, but the music industry has found its equivalent in Kurt Cobain. His disciples (Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam) push Alternative Music into the alien territory of mainstream radio. For the first time, it’s cool to be un-cool (something a garage group called “Weezer” will capitalize on in the coming years). Freaks are the “in-crowd”; the former “in-crowd” now freaks. In such a paradox of an environment, efforts of borderline insanity are required in order to stand out. Enter Shoegaze.
For those unfamiliar, I will provide a brief synopsis: Shoegaze was the name given by music critics to a British alternative movement (circa late-80’s early-90’s). Its namesake comes from the visual appeal of the guitarists, who typically do not concern themselves with the faces of their fans. Instead they hang their heads low, shifting their focus towards the multitude of pedals at their disposal. The instrument itself only acts as a maestro conducting a symphony of pedals, all of which adhere to the musician’s shoe – which acts as a baton. The resulting sound is typically a drone that bears little – if any – resemblance to a traditional guitar tone.
To go into shoegaze with more detail would be counterintuitive, considering the purpose of this article is to detail a film which attempts to encapsulate this movement into an hour and a half. That being said, Beautiful Noise does an excellent job of doing just that. What started as a Kickstarter ambition yielded a shoegaze fan’s wet dream. Beginning in the early eighties the film chronicles the entire history of shoegaze, occasionally providing unique insight into the production of such “beautiful noise.” To put it in laymen’s terms, this is not Behind the Music: Shoegaze anthology. Beautiful Noise caters to diehard fans and those intrigued enough to trek into unknown territory – posers and mainstream enthusiasts piss off.
The gang’s all here for the soundtrack: My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdrive, Cocteau Twins, the list goes on. Fans of the genre will also be pleased to see all the genre’s synonymous faces, most of whom are notorious for shying away from interviews: Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, Jim Reed of Jesus and Mary Chain, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine and… Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins…?
In fact, I’ll use this aforementioned oddity as a catalyst for my first real issue with the film: Key players are missing. Throughout Beautiful Noise there are two elephants in the room: One is named Dinosaur Jr., and the other Sonic Youth. Though not shoegaze themselves, they certainly were archetypes. Hell, My Bloody Valentine even said that (at the start of their career) they were attempting to recreate the “noise rock” produced by J Mascis. One does not leave out Beowulf in an explication of the history of the novel; one does not leave out Intolerance in a discussion of the origins of epic films. Why have two key figures been excluded – only to include such an outlier like Billy Corgan?
Of course, such criticisms pale in comparison to Beautiful Noise’s most striking flaw. Understand it has nothing to do with mise-en-cine. As a matter-of-fact, the film is quite sound from a filmmaking perspective: all interviews are appropriately framed (Corgan’s face is a little too close for comfort, but whatever) and B-roll is appropriate. No, my major gripe lies beyond the film itself:
I paid 15 dollars for this shit?
15 dollars. For those who remember them, that’s five blockbuster rentals. Or better yet, here are some more contemporary ratios: One Beautiful Noise is equivalent to 15 Redbox purchases, two months of a Netflix subscription, three movies on iTunes! Maybe if I was compensated with a physical DVD copy to shelve next to my non-existent copies of Loveless and Psychocandy, I could tolerate the price tag. But much like the hypothetical music collection, a DVD has never manifested in my presence, only a Vimeo link and a fifteen dollar stain on my bank account.
To bring my tirade to a much needed conclusion, Beautiful Noise is a competent archive of shoegaze for diehard fans, but my recommendation goes no further than those who find themselves in that specific clique. Sure, curious parties will have their intrigue of the genre quelled, but their satisfaction will be short lived in the presence of a 15 dollar transaction. What a shame, too. Shoegaze is a nexus of gnarly noise nowhere near the realm of the known definitely worth exploring, and this documentary does a solid job of doing just that. If the price should drop, definitely check it out. In the mean time, allow me to save you some money: Go to iTunes. Look Up Loveless. Listen to Only Shallow. Like what you hear? Explore. Hate it? Go buy yourself a couple of movies.