LOS ANGELES (Capitol Records) - The good news - the great news - is that Coachella, the film, exists at all. I was fortunate enough to attend a private screening Tuesday night at Dolby Laboratories in Burbank to see a vibrant, end-credits-less print with incredible sound in an intimate room that held maybe 20 people, tops. It was such an ideal setting - and such a powerful, intoxicating rock "n" roll film experience - that I had to go back and see it again the next night (and be late for Trey Anastasio
at the Wiltern, which I"ll get to in this space sooner than later).
No matter how big this film becomes - and, frankly, it should be playing on an IMAX screen or at the Cineramadome immediately - I just knew that I'd never get another chance to see it in such a pristine environment again. Plus, I needed perspective. Those of you who have been to even a single day of any Coachella are as apt to have the same reaction that those of us who have been to every single day of all six Coachella fests have almost involuntarily. Initially, you"re simply awed, wowed at how perfectly the film captures the sights and sounds and the feel of Coachella. You see the giant Tesla coil go off in the night, or you journey through the 3D-glasses tunnel, or you notice the fatigued and dehydrated taking refuge from the sun under one of the bleachers set up in front of the second stage ... and all of your memories, all of your excitement comes flooding back at you.
Never mind how great the performances are, and many of them are something to behold. Both times I watched Coachella I noticed myself gasping when a split-screen trick shifts the audience's attention from a suddenly smiling Liam Gallagher of Oasis to the unassuming but breathtaking entrance of a pregnant Bjork for "All Is Full of Love." And during my first viewing I realized I was tearing up in my right eye during Radiohead's delirious rendition of "Planet Telex."
The Mars Volta's moment - introduced with a thrilling freeze-frame of Cedric Bixler-Zavala leaping from atop Omar Rodriguez's amp stack - is like Santana "69 thrust kicking and screaming into a premature future. The White Stripes" "Hotel Yorba" finally gives Jack and Meg the iconic motion photography they have deserved since arriving. The Arcade Fire, aglow from natural magic-hour lighting, gives what could be a nationally galvanizing performance of "Rebellion (Lies)." Morrissey ("November Spawned a Monster") and the Pixies ("In Heaven" into "Where Is My Mind ?") are treated to adoring visual memorials that in a matter of minutes sum up what each act signifies.
Wayne Coyne valiantly trudging out into the crowd inside a giant plastic bubble as the Flaming Lips wrap up Yoshimi vs. the Pink Robots is one of the most uplifting moments in any rock film I"ve seen.
I love the we-still-alive comedown of Zero 7 at the end.
And I"m tickled that both Fischerspooner's little-seen but determined and defiant roar through "Emerge" and Red Hot Chili Peppers" very fine, mood-capitulating rendition of "Californication" are included. There are no year indicators for any of these performances, so you wouldn"t know this unless you were there, but those two sets occurred simultaneously. I sacrificed the Chili Peppers on the main stage (seeing as they play "round here all the time) to see the West Coast debut of FS in the midsize tent. I heard great things about the Chili Peppers that night, but I was so pumped up from the FS experience that I breathlessly went on and on about it to anyone who would listen. You couldn"t ask for two more opposing musical offerings - that's the beauty of Coachella, of course - but now people can judge for themselves which moment was the one worth seeing.
But getting back to why I saw it twice: The second time you gain some objectivity, and you see more clearly what the filmmakers (director Drew Thomas and producers Paul Tollett, Skip Paige and Bill Fold) are going for.
As much as this will satisfy most faithful Coachella-goers, it's ultimately designed to show the world what they"ve been missing, not to re-create every great moment that ever occurred. It's about complementing several amazing full-length performances with documentary footage and interview segments that illustrate not just the glory and tranquility and euphoria of the festival but the cultural and socio-political importance of it as well.
(One of the best bits in it is a cross-cut dialogue, so to speak, between outspoken activist-rapper Saul Williams, who doesn"t believe in biting one's tongue for the sake of pleasing entertainment, and Oasis" Noel Gallagher, who is convinced rock stars should keep their opinions to themselves and that change-the-world music only had a chance in the "60s. Each makes a good argument.)
It's an effective statement about the state of our times and our best music, shot in the manner of a classic rock "n" roll film. It's now and it's modern, but it has the feel of Woodstock and Monterey Pop and The Last Waltz - that is, it was caught as-is, without concern for what lighting might be more aesthetically pleasing or whether something shouldn"t have gotten in the shot. It's neither sanitized for your protection nor deliberately and obviously arty, the way 99 percent of all music DVDs are these days. It is simply real, and all the more potent because of it.
So like some deranged Roger Ebert, I"ve been yammering on and on to everyone I know that cares about the festival that Coachella is the best rock film of its kind since Woodstock, which after these screenings I still believe. Now it just needs a kick-start to get on its way to becoming a phenomenon like that granddaddy of all rock films.
Look, I"m not deluded. Woodstock was Woodstock not merely because it puts you there and it's such a wild visual experience. It's a piece of unprecedented, unparalleled history (rock and American) that will never happen again. People waited in line for hours to see it for more reasons than the performances. It expressed how they were feeling as a generation caught up in social revolution.
Today's revolt, if it can even be called that, is diffuse, fighting for causes all over the map with no centralized enemy, not even the war in Iraq. Where late-"60s protest-rock was explicit, hitting you over the head with messages, today's protest-rock is vague, ineffable, metaphorical, reluctant to take a stand, to the point that it evokes an energy more than any specific meaning. It's about causing you to think, not telling you what to think.
But because of that it's harder for people to get their heads around it. And it may be impossible for any film studio (major or minor or indie or what-not) to know how to widely release Coachella without merely dumping it in a hundred theaters before lumping it into DVD racks at Tower Records.
So Tollett and Paige and Fold and Thomas and the rest of the brains at Goldenvoice behind this are wisely taking things very slowly. Every day we wake up and rent theaters to put on concerts, Tollett told me after the second screening. Why can"t we wake up and rent a theater to show a movie? The plan, then, would be to stage a number of local event screenings, perhaps get it on a hundred screens at sympathetic venues by late January. Which almost certainly means that by that time, or early February, there is bound to be somehwere in Orange County showing Coachella.
From there, maybe the grass-roots, word-of-mouth, street-team roll-out would ramp up to film festivals. Maybe a showing in Austin sometime. Keep expanding out. Build excitement for it, for there's destined to be plenty of more people see it. Eventually, the hope is, some distributor will realize there's money to be made from backing a different kind of rock film (never a sure bet, especially now) and the thing would become a quiet national sensation.
It certainly has the music to do that. And to Coachella fanatics who wish it were three hours long and sent straight to DVD so that you could witness loads and loads of bonus footage, I sympathize. I can"t wait for that,either, and I honestly think the film would be improved by stretching out to epic length with an intermission. It's a theater experience, and it deserves a full-blown treatment.
What we can do, rather than criticize what might not be there, is embrace what is included and justify the logic that says more people will stick with it if it's kept under two hours.
I can name a dozen artists I wish were in it, even in glimpses. But I have no complaints. To me, it's a miracle it exists at all, at any length.