loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies

loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies
Directed by: Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin

loudquietloud1.jpgAlthough there are probably a heck of a lot of people out there with no idea who The Pixies are, this film opens with the only justification you need for a documentary on such a mysterious band; specifically, a quote from Kurt Cobain claiming that he was ripping off The Pixies when he wrote “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Clearly, without The Pixies, in some way there would have been no Nirvana, and without Nirvana, the music world may never have fully recovered from the hairspray and artificial pop of the 80’s (okay, that’s probably stretching it a bit, but you get the point).

The Pixies are one of those rare bands who actually became bigger after breaking up, than they were at the height of their career in the early 90’s. Their underground popularity and cult status only seemed to grow with each new post-punk band that named them as an influence. It was inevitable, then, that with the band members struggling to make ends meet individually, they should consider re-uniting to capitalize on this newfound fan base. In 2004, that is exactly what they did; the film loudQUIETloud attempts to capture the emotional highs and lows of this tour.

As with many music documentaries, it’s difficult to see anyone getting into this movie if they are not already a fan of the band. The good news is that if you are a fan of The Pixies, there is a compelling, well-constructed film here, something more than a mere concert film showcasing live performances. Although there is a fair amount of live footage, none of the songs are shown in their entirety, and in each case the focus is mostly on conveying the emotional space that the band members were currently occupying.

loudquietloud2.jpgloudQUIETloud is about a lot of things: life on the road, growing older, and the challenge of attempting to patch up old relationships, just to name a few. Directors Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin, who have previously worked on a number of documentary TV series, do a good job of giving us a look at the personalities in the band, without dispelling all the mystery behind them either.

One interesting thing about The Pixies is that despite all of their underground fame, not much was ever really known about them personally. All of their music was very cryptic and bizarre, and in some way I suppose they hid behind their art. Watching these 4 aging human beings attempt to re-navigate their careers as rock stars is somewhat surreal. Frank Black always seemed like a very loud, high-strung person, and yet he is soft spoken and down to earth here. Kim Deal is a recovering alcoholic and is extremely cautious about having any sort of relapse while on tour (she brings her sister Kelly along for support). Joey Santiago is married with children, and is grappling with the emotional toll of being away from them for so long. And then there’s drummer Dave Lovering, an aspiring magician before the band got back together, who ends up providing perhaps the most dramatic on-screen struggle of all as his father passes away from cancer during the tour, and he becomes increasingly dependent on booze and pills to ease the pain.

The filmmakers complained in the audio commentary that it was hard to get access to the certain parts of the story at times since the band members were so isolated from each other and didn’t speak too often. In some ways this may have hurt the movie, and yet, it also seems fitting. As viewers we feel like we’ve been kept at arm’s length, still leaving something to the imagination.

Anyone looking for an in-depth history of The Pixies and their contributions to the annals of rock n roll will probably be disappointed with this movie. This isn’t a VH1 special. Instead we get a portrait of a fragmented band who have been given a second chance to make it big, on their own terms, if they can just keep it together long enough to make it work. The movie does feel incomplete in some way, since just following them on tour didn’t tell enough of a story to be fully satisfying. But it’s artistically shot and captures some wonderful moments, and Pixies fans should, overall, be pleased with the result. — Sean