Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Freaking Fearless Flaming Lips!

I recently saw The Fearless Freaks, directed by Bradley Beesley and I realized three things: 1) I need to buy every single Flaming Lips album, 2) I want to be best friends with/marry Wayne Coyne, and 3) just how personal a documentary can be.

The film starts with documentation of their childhood and later reincarnation as The Flaming Lips. It's members were outcasts: kids that did not fit into the suburbia of Oklahoma City. They found outlets through music and banding together. The Coyne brothers (all six of them) and some other outcast neighborhood friends created a football team, that border on organized fighting, called The Fearless Freaks. This embracing of their "abnormal" status was a sign of and a catalyst for things to come. Wayne and others also embraced the drug scene, using it to expand their minds, or to at least escape the monotony of young adult life. Interviews with Wayne's parents express that they knew Wayne could be anything he wanted in life, but his passion and subsequent future was in music. All these components give an understanding to a band that at face value seems alien, freakish, and obsessed with large, white bunny suits, confetti, and boobs.

Beesley has been working with The Flaming Lips since circa 1992 and has apparently formed a very close working and personal relationship with its members. When I heard about the film, a friend of the band makes a documentary about them, I was worried the film would tend towards hero-worship. That was not the case. Beesley tip-toed that line very adeptly and created a portrait of a band, its individuals, and their art. I believe Beesley had a leg up on this story, because he had worked with the band for so long. He had footage from the bands beginnings through Coyne's recent film venture, Christmas on Mars. His personal relationships with the band's members along with the level of comfort they all shared allowed him to capture the band as they are, naturally, not as performers (of which, I am thoroughly jealous - not just from an admirer's standpoint, but as well from an aspiring documentarian's).

The one-on-one interviews with Wayne take an enigmatic, off-the-wall, once punk-psychedellic, turned alternative, turned avant-garde rocker and make him a lovable, approachable, everyday person with goals, family, and obstacles. This atmosphere also allowed Beesley to film Steven Drozd preparing heroin and shooting up, though the actual injection is not shown, I'm assuming for his welfare and that of those closest to him. This footage is so personal that an outsider would not be able to get the same emotion, honesty, and vulnerability out of them. This coupled with footage of shows, music videos, etc., the audience is reminded of when and where they saw/heard The Flaming Lips and realizes what was going on behind the scenes. I'd say that with a band so complex as The Flaming Lips, it took someone that truly knows them to portray them as they are.

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