Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Sundance ’15: Station to Station

Where can hipsterdom and traditional Americana come together in common purpose? Evidently, along our nation’s railways. Neither wants to be tied down, nor are either in any particularly hurry. Collaborating with musicians who would feel at home either at Lollapalooza or on Austin City Limits, Doug Aitken documents a twenty-four day coast-to-coast train trip in sixty-one one-minute shorts films (plus beginning and end credits), assembling it all into the restless, slightly avant-garde concert doc, Station to Station (trailer here), which screened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Granted, Aitken’s preferred term of “happenings” is pretty cringey, but the ten stops his transcontinental train made for multi-disciplinary performances mostly look like a lot of fun. It seems the music never stopped, as performer after performer gets their one minute feature spot, sometimes at the happening, other times on the speeding train.

A pair of flamenco dancers, an old school western auctioneer, and the Kansas City Marching Cobras are particularly fun to watch, because they have tons of talent, but they are hardly recognizable celebrities. However, big name recording stars like Beck and Thurston Moore bring their A-game, perhaps even winning over new fans. Of course, nobody can out power soul legend Mavis Staples. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the appearance of Giorgio “Flashdance” Moroder, but it is pretty cool to see him do his thing on the synthesizer.

Despite its linear direction and the imposed limits of the train, Station is a largely shapeless film. However, it has a lot of energy and it is visually quite stylish. Whether it be the lonely desert vistas, the warm glow of an electronica performance, or the evocative sight of Aitken’s movable light show of a train hurtling through the night, he and co-cinematographer Corey Walter always make the rapidly changing visuals look great. On the other hand, when he invites spoken word commentary from the likes of Gary Indiana, we mostly get annoyingly folksy dialectics.

Frankly, Station to Station probably isn’t experimental enough to sit comfortably in Sundance’s New Frontiers section, but it is hard to see where it would more easily fit. It certainly moves along at a good clip. Like Midwest weather, if you’re not digging it, just wait a minute and it will change. Rather pleasant overall, Station to Station is recommended for listeners of Sonic Youth and Patti Smith, as well as the sort of neo-roots artists profiled in No Depression. Having just notched a number of international sales, Station to Station should find its audience after world-premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.