Did you hear the one about the rock band which, after a few years of modest success, suddenly became extremely popular, loved by critics and fans alike and adored in all the larger arenas around the world? And how, after achieving the fame that so many seek, the guys found it – don’t get them wrong, it has its cool aspects – kind of numbing, draining and on really bad days even empty?
Sure you have – it’s a golden oldie, told once more in director Grant Gee’s documentary about Radiohead, a British rock band which tends to perform the kind of songs where the alienation is in the lyrics, and the salvation – or at least the seductive allure of the richly inexpressible – resides in the music. The film follows them on a worldwide tour on the heels of their third album, 1997’s OK Computer, the release of which served to enlarge their respectable fame into something bloated and surreal.
Director Gee works hard at trying to find a visual corollary for both the mind-altering experience of months of nonstop touring and the band’s music, where somber reflection blossoms into ecstatic dissonance – at first, it seems, a little too hard. Shuffling images with disorienting randomness, alternating rapid montages with long glides down that lonely road – of fame, presumably – he makes the point, rather heavy-handedly, that not only people but places are strange when you’re a stranger.
But once the band’s lead singer, Thom Yorke, emerges as the central figure in the film, Gee’s dervish devices become contextualized. We can see that there’s an actual person being buffeted about at the center of the maelstrom and now we have a story. Not a terribly original one, but one enhanced by a style which starts out looking like a fatal pretension and ends up being a saving panache.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].