Who Are You and Where You Been?
The talking-head interview is the most standard fall-back of the documentary. Whether it's a famous subject being slavishly eulogized by devoted fans, or an obscure subject being talked up by better-known interviewees, the testimony and hearsay of others is commonplace; often used to fill the absence of the subject themselves. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man employs the latter approach, with David Bowie, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley, Radiohead, Sting, Alison Goldfrapp, Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, Johnny Marr, and many others talking rhapsodically about the life and career of legendary musical recluse Scott Walker.
Yet, director Stephen Kijak has an interesting wrinkle to proceedings: he has subjects play Scott Walker songs, sit down, and react to them. Most point out something here or there —Goldfrapp a lyric, Bowie a bassline— with a keen, observing ear; but even better are the moments when subjects rise to the scenario.
Johnny Marr speaks of Walker's influence on the last Smiths LP, Strangeways, Here We Come, through the notion of string-swept "beauty in melancholy." Hawley guffaws at the chutzpah of someone starting an album with a "big f**k-off gong." Eno, when playing songs from the Walker Brothers' final LP, 1978's Nite Flights, is practically apoplectic: "It's humiliating to hear this. It is! You just think: Christ, we haven't got any further! I just keep hearing all these bands that sound like Roxy Music and Talking Heads. We haven't got any further than this! It's a disgrace, really."
Everything Within Reach
This 'review' portion takes up the middle-act of a documentary that, in many ways, has a traditional three-act narrative; the third part bringing with it... a shocking revelation! The opening act features a recap of the early years, from Walker's beginnings as a teen-pop prodigy Scotty Engel, to his nascent fame once the Walker Brothers landed in swingin' London in 1965. This is done, mostly, by some insane collector showing us obscure artifacts; but Walker, himself, talks openly of the old days. For someone who spent 20 years dodging interviews, Walker is personable and funny; barely resembling the mythical portrait of the tortured, crazed genius in exile (which the film's opening, incidentally, suggests is coming).
From there, we progress into the guest-interview listening sessions; which effectively chronicle Walker's first four acclaimed solo albums, followed by his radical, avant-gardist reinvention with Climate of Hunter (1984) and Tilt (1995). Finally, we're ushered into the recording sessions of 2006's The Drift; the first time Walker's ever allowed the camera into his notoriously-guarded workspace.
This narrative works surprisingly well: pushing things forward even whilst interviewees ramble, introducing obscure details to titillate devotees whilst serving as an introduction to any Walker neophytes. It's not a great work of art —films of this ilk almost always are not— but 30 Century Man ably succeeds in shining a light on the great works of art of another.
Release Date: 16 June 2009