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September 24, 2015

Film + EntertainmentMusicReview | by Francesco Cerniglia

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“Who are Arcade Fire?”

In 2011, upon winning Album Of The Year at the Grammy Awards for their third acclaimed studio record, The Suburbs (2010), Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire ignited an uproarious reaction on social media from fans of the typical poppy commercial fare that regularly grabs the headlines at these awards, claiming it was impossible they had made the album of the year because no one had never even heard the name of this band.

As a huge fan of Arcade Fire since day one and of great music in general, I remember being outraged after reading such nonsense but then I immediately felt sorry for the younger generations. How could they be unaware of one of the greatest bands of our time? Four years later, after The Suburbs went on to win them Best International Group and Best International Album at the 2011 BRIT Awards, Arcade Fire’s fourth record, Reflektor topped the charts worldwide upon its October 2013 release, debuting at #1 in the US, UK, Canada and several other territories.

With The Reflektor Tapes, LA based filmmaker Kahlil Joseph, whose beautifully shot, evocative short film Until the Quiet Comes for Flying Lotus received widespread critical acclaim and won the Grand Jury Prize for Short Films at Sundance Film Festival 2013, takes you not just inside the making of Arcade Fire’s critically acclaimed, international #1 album Reflektor but way deeper into the band’s creative journey as they lay foundations for the album in Jamaica, commence recording sessions in Montreal and play an impromptu gig at a Haitian hotel on the first night of Carnival, before bringing their breath-taking live show to packed arenas in Los Angeles and London.

Arcade Fire said of the film: “There were parts of the Reflektor tour where I think we, Arcade Fire, came the closest in our careers to putting on stage what we imagined in our heads. We were insanely lucky to have Kahlil Joseph documenting from the very beginning.

Having witnessed the tour myself in person three times, I couldn’t agree more with the Canadian band as Kahlil Joseph perfectly captures not just the tour experience but the essence and spirit of this wonderful group of musicians. I was lucky enough to be there since the start with their early mini-tour that previewed Reflektor in November 2013 when the band played gigs in small venues under “The Reflektors” alias, wearing big papier-mached mask-versions of their faces on their heads, inviting fans to show up in costume or formal attire at what was practically an extremely cool and exclusive carnival party.

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After this irresistibly fun and more intimate experience it was still amazing to see them again in June 2014 when they took the full-blown show at London’s Earls Court for two sold-out nights that also turned out to be the last concerts at that venue before demolition and finally, the epic conclusion of the tour this side of the pond with a massive show at Hyde Park’s British Summer Time in July 2014, a venue that only heightened the Reflektor tour’s colorful, kaleidoscopic, sonic and visual experience and its electrifying energy.

Joseph does a great job at simply throwing the audience front and center in the Arcade Fire experience at large without following any particular documentary tropes. There is a little sense of structure with the time framing of the whole album’s and tour’s development (Jamaica and Haiti 2012/2013 – Hollywood September 2014 – London June/July 2014) but there are no talking heads or a specific narrative. Neither there is individuality. This is a 6 piece band (at least the core) and despite real-life husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne often taking the spotlight, the film never shows them being interviewed.

The interviews are only voiceovers over the flowing footage and there’s no titles identifying who’s speaking. That’s done to great effect as the feeling you’ve always gotten out of Arcade Fire is that they’re a family and not just cause of blood relation like in the case of Win Butler’s brother Will, the eccentric, elf-like, hyper tall guy always running around, beating a drum and often winding up on the stage floor, playing until physical exhaustion and material consumption of his instrument.

The film succeeds at truly conveying what this band is all about by following them during the album-making process and subsequent tour but letting the images and the music speak for themselves. The voiceover interviews are sparse throughout and inserted like quotes rather than monologues. We hear Will underlining how “one of the deep roots of Arcade Fire’s aesthetics is trying to ignore the world and make art just with the people in the room around you” whilst his brother, the lead singer and frontman of sorts, Will, reveals: “I had a dream that Elvis came to me and told me that if we wanted to make it with our band we needed to practice 37 hours a week. It worked”.

It’s this spirit of pure artistic freedom and committed work ethic that transpires from watching the film with the director switching aspect ratio along the way and playing around with the audio and the video, using a few basic effects that give a retro vibe, focusing on the rhythms and colours of the Haitian carnival as the ongoing theme in this pivotal chapter of the band’s career. We hear them in fact highlight how “they turned into a way better band between the end of ‘The Suburbs’ and the whole ‘Reflektor’ process” and Régine claims that “with ‘Reflektor’ our whole other world is open that you could see from distance before but now it’s another room that you can actually enter”.

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Not only The Reflektor Tapes allows us to relive stunning concerts from the tour, re-envisioned in true cinema high definition and surround sound but also offers a rare opportunity for fans since Arcade Fire, a band notoriously uninterested in the spotlight, have granted previously unprecedented access to the filmmaker who fluidly blends in never before seen personal footage, the recording process and moments captured by the band themselves, to dazzling effect.

It’s not every day that you have a chance to hear Win Butler talk about his relationship with wife and on-stage partner Régine as he poignantly underlines “I was 19 or 20 when we met, so, I mean, it’s just life. That’s what happens when you get to know someone and know each other’s families. People have false expectations about what love is, you know. They don’t talk about it in school or your friends don’t talk about it when they’re at the bar”.

In addition to showcasing music from Reflektor and other albums in Arcade Fire’s back catalogue, The Reflektor Tapes gives viewers a chance to hear an unreleased track for the first time and features an exclusive 20 minutes of unseen footage, filmed only for cinema audiences. It is a unique cinematic experience that will please hardcore fans as much as intrigue more people to discover what this amazing band is all about which in the end is simply the power of music, just like they say in the film: “Being open to being led by a spirit. Music is exactly that. Going where that calls“.

The Reflektor Tapes, The first feature film about Grammy Award-winning band Arcade Fire, will be in cinemas across the UK today for a few days only.

For your chance to see the film, find your nearest screening and book now at TheReflektorTapes.com

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor