Tuesday, August 17, 2021

They'll Continue Singing It Forever Just Because

At some point in The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright's recent documentary on the art-pop band Sparks, one of the brothers that make up the band talks about the importance of repetition in their songwriting. They like to lyricize an entire song with one phrase, one phrase repeated over and over, but sung slightly different each time so its meaning shifts ever so slightly. Change the emphasis inside the sentence "We love each other so much" just a hint and a grand declaration can become an ironic half-thought, a sinister accusation. 

And that's the well their score for Leos Carax' sixth film Annette -- recent opener for the Cannes Film Festival, now in theaters, hitting Amazon this weekend -- returns to time and again and again and again... and again again. Indeed nearly every song seems predicated on the idea. Or maybe that's just the way it felt to me by its end -- either way at a certain point Brechtian echoes trail off, leaving blank emptiness in their wake, and I fear Annette, for all its blowsy Carax-fueled cinematic abandon, might suffer the same fate. It's a lot of sound and fury, in other words. Actually in the same words. Over and over, and again again.

Admission of dire un-hipness I had never even heard of Sparks until Edgar Wright told me that I needed to, and at Sundance his two-and-a-half hour doc, bubbling with giddiness, sure convinced me I'd been missing out -- I went straight to Apple Music and I downloaded all of their music immediately, coasting in on the doc's effervescent charms and the mad wild weirdness of those legendary brothers. But the spell, I have to say, kinda wore off, and fast at it -- within a couple of months I was swiping their tracks off every playlist, as that same repetitive nature of their songwriting began to eat away at itself; a poisonous stomach-ache hangover, an acid bath for my ears. Novelty wore thin and I became actively annoyed by the sound of them! Egads, outta my head!

To the new film's credit it's only the opening scene of Annette where the exact "sound" of the Sparks themselves becomes an issue, since it has the brothers marching and singing alongside all of the film's actors (and hey there Mr. Carax himself) to introduce our big handed tale of woe -- its forward camera march is reminiscent of the standout accordion scene in Carax's masterpiece Holy Motors actually. And from there on the duties of being incessantly repetitive are handed to some admittedly talented thesps, foremost being Adam Driver & Marion Cotillard as our dangerously romantic couple -- these two, they have some luck for awhile with it. 

But I've said on numerous occasions that I can only stomach musical movies as far as I dig their soundtracks, and the Sparks music eating away at the heart of Annette went the same road as my whisper-brief affair with the band themselves -- an iota of them goes a long long way, but Annette insists on going longer.

Visually Carax remains a trip, a touch of light fantastic, a treat -- he finds such weird ways to render mundane material that you can't help but sizzle here and there in your seat from the Sheer Audacity TM on display. But about film's mid-point, as Adam Driver's performance grew bigger and more exhausting as if he could outrun his every sentence, I began to get lost in the Whys of it all. The story boiled down to its core is standard Star in Born claptrap, goosed up with ever bigger waves of ham and extravagance -- eventually I just wanted the ride to end. I wanted off the whirlygig. I wanted these white people to please stop screaming at me.

There are a lot of things about Annette to appreciate, in theory. It's not sanded down for its abrasiveness -- it's dark and glum and mean and horny and relentlessly idiosyncratic. It will be a lot of people's cuppa. You do admire the chutzpah while wiping it off your face. But I just couldn't find a heart to it anywhere -- a belly to sink my hand into for firm grip. It was shock and awe and marionette drone sight gags, a giggle or ten, and a lot of operatic wailing in the place of words or meaning. Sometimes saying the same thing over and over just makes the thing lose all meaning, a word on a page that's turned into scribbles, a hieroglyphical dissonance half-resembling a thing you once remembered, back in the before-times, whenever the hell they was, when they was, whenever.


AxFromMN said...

Stumbled on Sparks a few years ago when they teamed with Franz Ferdinand for an album (FFS is the band) and loved it and their album from last year (A steady Drip Drip Drip).

I was excited with "May We Start" and grossly disappointed with the rest of the movie. I did hum "Baby Annette" for 20 minutes afterwards.

Joe in DC said...

Nice allusion to “The Song that Never Ends.” But now I can’t get it out of my head. Thanks, I guess?