By Bryce Shoemaker
Culled from audio/video footage captured during Mogwai’s three-day residency at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY in early 2009), the Vincent Moon and Nathanael Le Scouarnec-directed film Burning provides for an intimate live experience with a band best known for its ability to shatter sound barriers on a grand scale.
Yet, instead of taking the easy route and merely highlighting the epic grandiosity so commonly ascribed to the Glaswegian quintet’s music, the directors eschew the clichés by keeping to the somewhat-offbeat-but-entirely-personal aesthetic of their contributions to La Blogotechque’s Take Away Shows. The final result is a beautiful juxtaposition of contemplative visual serenity set against the swells and plateaus of Mogwai’s oft-touted transcendental volume dynamics.
Moon and Le Scouarnec’s choice to keep things simple and focused by forgoing any flashy editing or gaudy visual gimmickry manifests itself in a well-executed, to-the-point exploration of the relationship between personal-proximity and music of sprawling proportions; finding physical-mental closeness in a vast aural landscape.
Shot entirely in black and white, the concert images in Burning are consistently cropped tight – offering up-close views of hands fretting and strumming guitars, sticks beating against cymbals, chord progressions and knob twiddles on keyboards, smiles curling at corners of mouth, or an occasional view over the shoulder of a band member as beads of sweat roll off his chin while he awaits a silent cue to move on to the next movement of a particular song.
In these moments, where all the mechanics of live performance are exposed and the band is most vulnerable, one is able to bridge the gap between the music and the band itself. It is here that the techniques of visual confinement in the face of guitar-driven space-gazing employed by Moon and Le Scournec facilitate a sense of hypnotic intimacy (with shots panning to dazed-out show goers to accent this point), rather than claustrophobic anxiety.
In spite of the abrasive amount of volume and white-noise Mogwai kicks up during their Music Hall set, it is the vision of Moon and Le Scournec that keeps the viewer feeling invited and engaged like a silent sixth member.
With an eight-song set list of favorites old and new, Mogwai is at their finest here (along with the accompanying live album Special Moves, one can safely assume this CD/DVD pairing to be the band’s unofficial attempt at a “greatest hits” collection) , and the performance moves along in one seamless, mesmerizingly kick-ass swoop.
Burning makes its Seattle debut Monday, August 23 at the Northwest Film Forum.