F For Faked
I will confess, I tend to get a little suspicious whenever I stumble upon a film critic who seems to take every opportunity to talk (at great length!) about music, philosophy, literature, sport, art or food — as if finally, in their hearts, they really want be talking about these topics rather than film, and have become stuck in the wrong profession.
So forgive me if I, too, just this once, take the opportunity to speak more about music than film.
Recently I have been writing about Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. I felt particularly compelled to pay homage to one of my favourite recordings by them: "Bring It On" from Nocturama (2003), featuring Australian legend Chris Bailey from The Saints as guest co-singer with Cave.
"Bring It On" is, in its structure, a rather odd little song. It exists in what I think of as the "Me and Bobby McGee" tradition: like that Kris Kristofferson/Fred Foster classic of 1969, it boasts only two verses (hardly enough to tell a story!), a chorus, and (as in Janis Joplin's famous version) an extended play or scat on the tune to fill out the running time.
But, whatever its overall form, "Bring It On" has such wonderful (and very cinematic) dynamics. The verses are in the characteristic Bad Seeds quiet mode (taps on the side of the drum, single or double strums on each chord) until the chorus arrives, and then everything revs up — until the drop back down again for the second verse. At the end of the second chorus, however, particular force is reserved for a thunderous four-bar crescendo, with the drums offering their best rollicking form.
The main reason I love this song is simple, and easy to hear as part of that crescendo: it's in the uninhibited 'waaah!' scream of Chris Bailey. And that's not all: before the second and final scat reprise of the chorus, Bailey gets to do it again, this time so excited he anticipates his own cue by a fraction of a beat — as if he just can't wait to get that animal cry out of himself, one more time. That 'waaah' is, to me, immortal.
But hold on! When I submitted my text, the editor sternly informed me — after consulting with Mr Cave himself — that what I loved so much in the track was just an illusion, a trick. Bailey had no intention of screaming, and didn't want to do it. There was no rock-epiphany spontaneity involved at all on his part; he had to be coaxed to add a few extra, vocal exclamations (imagine, now, his bored 'waaah', alone at the microphone after the band session). And then — in an ultimate blow to the emotive authenticity I had imagined — the sound engineer had digitally dropped this reluctant scream into just the right spot, twice over, into the final mix. I was shattered!
That essay was duly rewritten and resubmitted by me, with a completely different ending. But the experience taught me something, or rather reaffirmed something I have always known, deep down: that fakery, artifice, trickery, manipulation — whatever you wish to call it — is just as good as the supposed 'reality' of what might happen in a single take.
This is as true for cinema as it is for music. We hear so much about the unrepeatable moment, the chance gesture or incident occurring in front of the camera — or those goddamn 'leaves in the trees' beloved of so many cine-philosophers, leaves which blow one particular way for only one moment in time and are immortalised by the photographic imprint of light on sensitive celluloid.
No one can deny this special magic of the cinematic medium. But everything that is phony, tricked up, cheated, added on afterwards, or somehow contrived, whether during production or post-production, is just as much a part of cinema's glory. Waaaah! If it works, it works.