Rock and rolling back the years

This year’s DocAviv Festival is strong on nostalgia – but surprisingly relevant to today’s younger generation as well.

blur311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Some say that nostalgia ain’t quite what it used to be, and they have a point. But, judging by much of the musical content of this year’s DocAviv Festival (May 6-15), some of the musical events of yesteryear remain as relevant today as they were three or four decades ago.
“I’d say that’s right,” states the festival’s artistic director Ilana Tzur, ”and not just in terms of the lessons of yesteryear that can be applied to today. There are things that went on back then that are still going on today, and there is music from back then – from the Sixties – that today’s younger generation enjoys.”
The latter, says 60-something Tzur, certainly applies to When You’re Strange, a documentary made last year about legendary Sixties American rock band The Doors.
“I was surprised to learn that young people today still listen to the band’s music. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that [iconic Doors lead singer] Jim Morrison died so young, and didn’t get old.” Morrison died in 1971 at the age of 27.
Michal Ron, who was responsible for selecting this year’s music documentaries, has a slightly different take on the relevance issue.
“Back in the Sixties there was a lot of trouble with the authorities and the Establishment objecting to young people getting together for parties and cultural events, not to mention the drugs,” says Ron. “And that is still going on. Look at the all the police raids there were here last week, on Independence Day. It’s almost as if nothing has changed in all these years.”
The 32-year-old Ron grew up musically in the Eighties and, naturally, is delighted to include a film about British band Blur, called No Distance Left to Run in the festival program. Blur started life in 1989 and, after putting out a string of smash hit albums and singles and winning umpteen awards, broke up and recently reformed after a six-year hiatus.
“For me, Blur crossed cultural and artistic genre borders,” says Ron. “They were basically the start of electronic music as we know it today, and they generated a lot of the impetus for the electronic and party scene in Israel too. It was hard to get hold of the documentary for the festival, but I’m really glad we managed it. I’m sure people of my age, and younger Israelis will enjoy it.”
And there is more Eighties fare, with They Call It Acid, which documents the birth of a new culture in the UK around the time Blur came into being. Again, like Blur, the acid house movement gained plenty of enemies within the British powers-that-be to the point that, fueled by a media hate campaign, the British government pushed a bill through parliament outlawing acid house parties. It also provided enormous budgets to fund a special police unit, whose sole purpose was to stamp out the new movement.
Such, it seems, is the power of music.
Elsewhere on the music side of DocAviv, there are some documentary nuggets which, while telling the stories of events that took place several decades ago, are quality films and offer top-drawer entertainment value – even for youngsters who relate to the likes of Woodstock and Joan Baez as events and figures from the distant past.
The Woodstock documentary is a joy to behold, and not just for the grizzlies who were around at the time – even if they didn’t make it to the upstate New York site, leased to the festival organizers by local Jewish farmer Max Yasgur, in person.
There have been quite a few films made about the seminal pop-rock gathering in 1969, but Woodstock: Now and Then is not just a collection of rehashed archival clips and interviews. The clips and the interviews are there, in abundance, but when you hear youthful-looking and still smiling Woodstock instigator and producer Michael Lang talk about the intricate logistics of putting on the event, and some of the horror stories he had to deal with, you know you are looking at living history rather than a washed, pressed and stuffed museum exhibit.
Woodstock: Now and Then director Barbara Kopple devotes a good portion of the film to the creation of the festival and the chaotic preparations, which, after a change in location due to local opposition to the impending arrival of hordes of long-haired youngsters, meant the stage and the light and sound towers were still under construction the night before the crowds started arriving at the Yasgur site.
The documentary manages to convey an across-the-board sense of the dynamic involved behind the stage, and the feeling among the 400,000 audience watching the gigs. Intriguingly, it also provides a glimpse of some of the lesser-known aspects of the gathering, such as the existence of a Trip Tent, where people could get over bad drug-related experiences, and the provision of free health food by a team of volunteers from the nearby Hog Farm. Some of the artists, such as Richie Havens, Graham Nash and David Crosby, also enlighten us about their view of the landmark event, the impact of which still resonates today on all sorts of levels.
Harping back, once again, to those bygone days of anti-Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement, How Sweet the Sound offers an in-depth look at iconic folk singer and civil rights activist Joan Baez. Now almost 70, Baez is one of the survivors of an era which took its toll on many of her contemporaries. She looks and sounds fresh and healthy, and in How Sweet the Sound presents a balanced and sober view of events during the halcyon days of the folk movement, including the protests and political agenda of the time.
One-time amour and legendary folk figure Bob Dylan also offers his learned insight on Baez and her endeavor, both on- and off-stage.
The name Bill Withers may not mean much to the under-40s, but there are probably plenty of youngsters who would readily start humming to the opening bars of 1970s pop hit Ain’t No Sunshine.
“I wasn’t around when that song came out and I didn’t really know the name of the man who sang it,” admits Ron, “but we all know the song, so it is fascinating to learn more about Bill Withers from Still Bill.” The captivating film, in addition to the archival and informational elements, offers a gentle portrait of a man who made it to the very top of the music business, against all odds, only to leave it all behind him to lead a normal family life.
DocAviv also features documentaries about some local acts, principallyThe Giraffes and Shlomo Artzi. The latter should make good viewing as,despite performing regularly and giving the odd interview, Artzi doesnot normally offer more than a few snippets about his personal life.
As an added benefit, Woodstock: Now andThen,They Call It Acid and WhenYou’re Strange will also be screened outdoors at the Tel AvivPort, for free.
“The port is a great place to have outdoor screenings,” says Tzur. “Itis away from the hubbub of the city, and right by the seafront, whichis one of Tel Aviv’s treasures.
“It should be a wonderful experience for the audience.”
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