Don’t know who Blink-182, Angels & Airwaves and Tom DeLonge are? Fine—I won’t need to refer to them much; all you have to picture is the band who wrote the soundtrack to your last summer. Now imagine one person within that group, saddled with being forever known as “the guy from…”, a band better-known for toilet jokes than lasting music. Our subject here is not a character, but he’s struggling for the same goal many creative characters have before: to gain recognition as a serious, individual artist. His resulting attempts to do so lyrically are anthemic but vague (“Hey-oh, here I am/And here we go, life’s waiting to begin”); for the music, he intends to stretch his simple riffs into grandiose waves of sound. It’s going to be a long day.
But strangely enough, the real importance of this vision does start to come home when he mentions working on a guitar part for six hours…and, on camera, we see him stumbling upon the piece that will fit. It fits nicely alongside his statement “There’s no room for anything other than ten times bigger and better than I’ve ever done”—a moment that was promptly foiled by the tuneless singing that follows. (Right there? Some voices can sound a little flat without a backing, and he must know his is not the best…but that was a decision for the filmmakers, who I read were given final cut.)
Read at Unsung Films: I’m Still Here.
Even more incongruous is that a camera was watching at all—yes, during that moment, following six hours of trial and error, lights were set up and a camera was filming. Hiring a crew to document a creative undertaking’s minute-by-minute creation is, to put it lightly, a risky move for any band more than a one-off—more foolhardy than risky, even, but what does that say in the context of our subject’s steps towards autonomy? Listen for the way he says certain words that lay at the offhand corners of his vision, eyes drifting off-screen—literally assuming a pose, while trying to narrate a different one just as convincingly: “Experiment.” “Family.” “Repercussions.” I thought of Dignan in Bottle Rocket once or twice, before the shots give me enough time to take a second look and realize he actually means it, from the bottom of his heart and gut—those other looks I caught sight of are actually the last tattered flags of fear and nausea at taking such a chance.
What I mean to say is there’s conviction here. So much conviction that he did give away that final cut—enough that brims over the edges in the nervous focus he gives those same cameras (when he’s not goofing off—and what sort of contradiction is that?) Conviction that leads into focus and determination: look close and you can also catch him narrowing his focus from the crowd before him when performing to the microphone stand so he could set the thing back in place—one moment for a technical detail; that moment’s fulfillment of an expectation that will never be paid off so long as a camera or audience is there, watching.
Such a personality was not deemed visually interesting enough, but the filmmakers’ touches have a tendency to enhance what’s already there: they drop filters and lenses onto the editing timeline (I’m sure), turning whole shots of otherwise near-identical footage of musicians lounging and sometimes recording into teal and orange Andy Warhol prints—the reverse of Easy Rider, where when too much road footage ran together Dennis Hopper had recourse to the whole sound of the 70’s. They seem, in what is not unusual for recent films, to grab for just about any visual surface: stationary when there are no other options, but elsewhere lunging wildly from subject to subject, often highlighting irrelevant details and searching for a focus in their haste, remaining for little more than a few seconds before leaping anew. They succeed in coming up with something that is at least interesting to watch and, I think, rather fascinating as a real-life character study—regardless of whether you’d want to buy the soundtrack.
Watch the trailer for Angels & Airwaves: Start the Machine here:
Watch Angels & Airwaves: Start the Machine – the full movie – here: