Concert films and album documentaries often require a supernatural level of devotion to be properly appreciated and The Reflektor Tapes is no exception. Directed by music video legend Khalil Joseph, The Reflektor Tapes is documentary about Arcade Fire and their 2013 album Reflektor. Featuring behind the scenes footage of the making of the album and its supporting world tour, the film plays out like an abstract audio visual remix of Reflektor. This week, The Reflektor Tapes was screened in theaters across the world for a one night only release and I was there.
Their debut album Funeral was released just as I started to discover independent and alternative music and in the decade since I’ve developed a profoundly meaningful love for the music of Arcade Fire. I know exactly where I was the first time I heard Arcade Fire and I remember burning copies of Funeral for my friends in high school, thinking their music was too powerful not to be shared and experienced together. I got up early and waited for my university record store to open so I could buy Neon Bible the moment it was released. Two months after completing my degree and embarking into professional adulthood, Arcade Fire released The Suburbs. Days later, my brother and I saw them headline Lollapalooza and for the first time, a concert moved me to tears. I remember drunkenly singing along to “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” with kindred spirits at otherwise tame post-collegiate house parties. Released just weeks after I proposed to my then girlfriend now wife, Reflektor became a constant soundtrack through our engagement. When in need of a spiritual pilgrimage, my buddy Adam and I drove across the desert to see Arcade Fire perform back to back nights at the historic LA Forum last August. Even the most casual music fan is likely to have an artist that is deeply, immeasurably meaningful to them and since I was 17 years old, Arcade Fire has been my band.
I tell you all this so that when I say I really enjoyed The Reflektor Tapes, you know that it’s a result of my personal experience with Arcade Fire’s music and not the movie itself. Objectively, The Reflektor Tapes is a mess. It’s an amorphous collage of disjointed footage that never once let’s you enjoy a song from start to finish. The live audio is mixed so that you often only hear one or two instruments at a time, resulting in a strange and occasionally compelling new take on otherwise flawless music. It’s a visually jarring experience that alternates between different aspect ratios and layers several shots on top of each other simultaneously. From shot to shot, the film switches from color to black & white to infrared grayscale. The credits roll after only 70 minutes and then are followed by a conventionally entertaining 15 minute interview with Win Butler, Regine Chassagne and Richard Reed Perry. Impressionist by design, The Reflektor Tapes has moments of beauty surrounded by pretentious filmmaking gimmicks.
I’m glad I saw it. Arcade Fire has earned enough credibility in my book for them to release something like The Reflektor Tapes. If I am disappointed by the film, it’s mostly because their music has always felt so inclusive and The Reflektor Tapes is not. I was thrilled to see glimpses of their live show captured on film but this is a movie only a superfan could love. I enjoyed seeing the experiences and locations that inspired the music of Reflektor and the imagery of the film is gorgeously chaotic. The joy of live music is being able to participate in a communal spiritual experience and to that end The Reflektor Tapes is a moderate success. Seeing the film in a theater full of like minded fans for its one night only release felt more special than the film itself and in a weird way this makes sense for Arcade Fire. Their music has always been more about the shared experiences and emotions than the melody or the rhythm. For someone unfamiliar with their catalogue, this film might be a wasted hour. For someone who has soaked for a decade in the nostalgic anguish and euphoria of Arcade Fire, this film is another glimmering artifact from the most important band of my life.
“If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I would love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again”
-Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs (Continued)”