Friday, May 5, 2017

Dare to be Different (2017) Tribeca 2017

In the early 1980's WLIR was a Long Island based progressive rock station that switched formats to all New Music (New Wave) because in the proceeding half decade their shows playing the new music from Europe were what everyone wanted to hear. The music revolution was not being broadcast, anywhere, and people needed a place to hear the music that would soon reshape the world The format change resulted in the station becoming the conduit through which the music of performers like U2 made it into America. It also laid the ground work for MTV.

That there is a film about the station isn't surprising. It was the station that broke the mold and introduced America to acts long before anyone had heard of any of them.(They were so good at what they did some acts were bigger here than in Europe)

I grew up listening to the station and I loved the gems it was giving us from the other side of the Atlantic. Watching the film I was suddenly back in my teens and twenties again. Everything old was new again and with this heavy dose of nostalgia I was in heaven. This film brought back so many memories that it was replaying of the soundtrack of sections of my life.

I have to applaud the filmmakers for making a film that talks to all the right people, tells many of the right stories and includes so much great music. The film has interviews with everyone that you’d want them to talk to from the station and the music industry(except U2). In most of the film's various segments they get everything right.

However there is problem in linking it all up. Things, especially with the actual history of the station, seem to have been placed into the narrative at random. It doesn’t always finish its thoughts, jumping from idea to idea and back again. We move around in time awkwardly. Worse it doesn’t explain everything it should, sections of the stations history seem to be missing. (I suspect the problem is it is simply trying to do way too much in too short an amount of time.) Worse it feels like the filmmakers were just way too close to the material.

Beginning at the end of the station the film then jumps back to begin telling us the story of  the grand undertaking. It then veers off into a look into the history of the music. Then switches back to the radio station... and then back to the music... until the end credits roll. There is no narrative flow there is only the random telling of stories and playing of music.

The choppy editing hurts the film because there is little sense of place or the flow of history. What year did some of these happen? It is not always clear. There is no sense of time, it's all happening during one marvelous golden age.

Names and places are thrown out there like they will mean something to the audience, and I suppose if you live on Long Island and are of a certain age they might, but not you’re going to feel adrift. Some of the DJs are not given their due, other than being at the station we don’t know what they did. Why was Larry the Duck so important? Or why was Malibu Sue so popular? No clue. Do you know what Spit or 007s or The Malibu were? If not you’re going to feel lost.

When making a documentary a filmmaker who knows a subject must have someone come in who knows nothing and watch what they are doing and see if it will "play in Peoria". I don't think that happened here. I think this was made by a bunch of people who loved the station so much that they never thought about the people didn’t know about WLIR. I really don’t think there is enough material here to make anyone who doesn’t know the station connect to the film, or fully understand what happened.(I know some of this history and I had a hard time following it)

A huge problem is it is not only a history of WLIR but also the music. It would be fine except that the film doesn't give everyone enough time to tell enough of their stories. For example it’s okay to have Billy Idol talking about how he and others were mixing genres but we need to hear more. How was this really breaking the rules of the way music was perceived by British radio? We also need to know more about British radio than there were 4 stations aimed at different age groups. What exactly were they playing? We can't know how the music changed how the BBC programed it if we don't know what they were doing before.

And the film needs more stories like Joan Jett playing the just mastered I LOVE ROCK AND ROLL at the station only to have the record company head call up and demand they take it off the radio. There should be more actual crazy stories of what happened not just implications or random facts. There also needs to be more of the stations triumphs beyond U2 saying how wonderful they were at a concert.

In a weird way it needs to be cut in two- the WLIR story and the New Wave story- it can't support both. There is too much to both stories and mixing the them into one 90 minute film does both a major disservice.

I think on the first pass this is going to be a great film for those who know the station. It a mad wave of nostalgia. Having the film reawaken my youth moved me to tears…

…but sadly outside of the nostalgia this isn't really a good film. It doesn't tell either the story of the station or the one of the music as well as it should. Worse it never makes the audience connect to the film unless they are already connected to WLIR.

Frankly I want to get my hands on all the footage and recut the film or give it to one of the editors from one of the music docs the BBC has been turning out and have them reshape everything.

If you loved WLIR then see the film- all others proceed with caution.

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