Acclaimed music video director Kahlil Joseph provides a visual exposition through and beyond the inner workings of Arcade Fire’s latest 2013 album Reflektor. Those who are already fans will feel reunited with giddy sensations of warmth and grandeur given the doc mostly rests upon the wonderfully-disorienting experience of attending an Arcade Fire concert. Better known for directing Beyonce’s Lemonade, Kahlil incorporates some textured superimpositions of color, art-gallery-certified paintings, and images of the Haiti Carnival as a means to try and capture the energy of the tour and the record. Taking on more the structure of an artsy video essay, the film teeters between transcendental performance clips, mundane scenes backstage – like band member Régine Chassagne attempting to catch some snooze before hitting the stage, brief moments in the studio, and interview quotes that does occasionally venture off into wax-poetic – particularly when members begin to speak on their growth post-Suburbs and the Haitian influences that had inspired the spirit and peripheral sonic elements of the album.
It also feels more or less like a continuation of their previous Miroir Noir – though with much more polish and direction. Much like Miroir Noir, the film is more bent on summarizing those experiences of the tour and the making of the album from the outside looking in. Watching the doc, there were moments where I wished the camera would linger a bit longer – particularly the in-the-studio scenes where Chassange and her frontman husband Win Butler are working with Haitian drummers to get the right sound on tracks like “Afterlife” and “It’s Never Over”. Rather than providing insight into the band members as people, the film often offers mere glimpses behind the scenes.
Between Chassagne’s musings about how the musical layers to Reflektor is like “a diamond with a million cuts in it” and Win speaking on the album’s supposed meta-philosophical references to Soren Kierkegaard’s “The Present Age”, I can understand how someone who may be a merely casual appreciator of the band could start to tune out here and there. Isolated quotes like these are fine to include, though it can start to run hollow and repetitive if not coupled with more substantive conversations about the music and the people who make it.
The constant tug-and-pull between onstage and off, and the rapid albeit soulful transitions between them does provide an interesting cohesion where such scenes almost become inseparable. In using the skeletal foundations of the standard rockumentary, Kahlil tries to offer a little something more – a narrative through-line communicated via an everlasting montage of footage that shuffles between opposing aspect ratios, film stocks, shooting locations, and color temperatures. As a result of such devices, you get the sense that in the midst of this visual collection lies some greater truth – one that concerns itself with the machinations of cultural traditions and dual heritage expressed through rhythm and dance.
Perhaps this speaks more to my love for the band, but I definitely enjoyed myself while watching The Reflektor Tapes. The record’s infectious New Wave meets Haitian percussion and disco sensibilities quickly knocks out any ounce of indifference or boredom. Part of what makes Arcade Fire so appealing is their total disinterest in becoming monsters of their own success. It’s the tension of watching a band chase after something beyond their means that makes it much more interesting than listening to one that, inadvertently, becomes a self-serving tribute band of their own accord – playing the hits over and over and so on. With this doc, you get the sense that the band – more than anything else – sees Reflektor as a stepping stone – a “whole other world [that’s been] opened. [One] that you could see from a distance before, but now it’s another room that you could actually enter”, as Chassagne explains it.
The DVD release of the the film includes the band’s 2013 NBC performance special “Here Comes the Night Time” and the Spike Jonze-directed, live music video-esque YouTube Awards performance of “Afterlife” starring Greta Gerwig. It also comes with a separate disc of the band’s entire live performance at Earls Court in London.
Despite its shortcomings, The Reflektor Tapes is a visceral, fly-on-the-wall experience that occupies the grey area of what you might expect out of a standard concert film. The content is not exactly revelatory, though for those already won over, it’s a nice, enjoyable addition to the archive.