Over the past few years, the vast Coachella Music Festival in Southern California has earned a sort of mystique among the indie-rock set. "A person can go to Coachella and experience one thing, and his friend can experience another thing," a promoter says early on in this concert film documenting the event. If that's the case, then watching this movie is like going to the festival with an annoying friend who hits on hippie chicks half of the time and drags you to some of the worst acts for the other half.
Compiling highlights from the festival's first five years, Coachella the movie boasts some stellar names on its roster. But for every blistering live clip of Iggy and the Stooges, The Arcade Fire or a spirited, gracious White Stripes, there's another segment devoted to yesterday's-news electronic acts like The Crystal Method, Zero 7 or shudder one-hit-wonder Prodigy. Most of the major rock bands featured in the movie have been off the radar for a few years (Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers) or are playing old songs that don't reflect their recent material (Radiohead). And the incessant, distracting interviews with the "regular" teens and twentysomethings attending the festival are mind-numbing. "It's all about giving energy," one girl dopily exclaims.
In trying to prove that Coachella appeals to all musical tastes, director Drew Thomas has made a film that will satisfy no one. Fans of Björk or Morrissey can find plenty of live DVDs out there that feature better-shot, better-edited clips of their idols in action than the three or four minutes each gets here. Thomas and his army of cinematographers have captured all the action in the most haphazard way possible: The movie's highlight is the legendary 2004 reuniting of the Pixies, but the lack of decent shots and the incessant cuts render the band inert and lifeless. It's as if the filmmakers had no game plan or no experience when it comes to shooting live music.
Of course, the concert film is always a treacherous genre: If you're not interested in the band that's being documented, then chances are you won't like the movie. But two stellar examples currently in theaters Dave Chappelle's jubilant Block Party and Neil Young's Heart of Gold prove that you don't necessarily have to be a die-hard fan to enjoy a well-made music flick. Meanwhile, the meandering Coachella blows its wad on pointless interviews with has-beens: "It's as important as a colonic and a good diet," Perry Farrell explains at one point. Unless that sounds like fun to you, you might want to avoid this film.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 23. Call 313-833-3237.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].