Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Last weekend, Harvard Film Archive ran a series of films on artists who died young. We caught the suicide series on Saturday which featured a promotional short on Elliot Smith as well as documentaries on Nick Drake and Israeli singer Mike Brant.

The Elliot Smith one was interesting in that, though it was only 10 minutes long, it provided an interesting view of the artist. For one thing, he looked considerably older than his choronological age (mid 20s). Also, when he wasn't performing, his movements and gestures gave me the impression that he was uncomfortable in his skin and possibly very shy.

The Nick Drake documentary was more atmospheric and to me, very stylized. Since Drake was a near recluse and died very young, there wasn't much material on him. The filmmaker did a decent job of it, though. I particularly enjoyed the chance to hear some of Drake's mother's music, which had a very obvious influence on his. I also found the talk with Drake's orchestrator a wonderful insight, as the lushness of the sound is what attracts me so to the music. In all, not a bad effort, given the how little the documentarian had to work with.

By far, however, the film that made the greatest impression was Mike Brant: Laisse-Moi T'Aimer. I'd seen Mike Brant albums around in used record stores, but never gave much thought to the musician, as I'd figured he was another Johnny Halliday clone. I've since learned that Brant was no Halliday; far from it. In fact his powerful voice, stage presence, and incredible heartthrob looks had set my heart aflutter as though I were a teenager.

Moishe Brand made quite an impression on Hal as well, sending him on a search for non-schlocky images of the Israeli Tom Jones. I particularly like this one.

Brant got his start singing at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings around Haifa, gained some recognition in Haifa and made his way to the nightclub scene in Tehran where he was discovered by Sylvie Vartan. She and her partner encouraged him to come to Paris; rather unexpectedly, he took them up on their offer. What followed was a meteoric rise to fame. Brant, however, was young and had a lot of ghosts in his past (he was the child of a holocaust survivor and a former resistance fighter. Spent the first four years of his life in a refugee camp in Cypress). Management changes and a trip back to Israel to perform for the troops during the Yom Kippur war exacerbated emotional problems; on returning to France, he checked into a mental health clinic for a short stay. Months after, he made his first suicide attempt. Just after leaving the Swiss hospital where he convalesced, he made a second, successful attempt.


When someone dies young, I always wonder what potential hasn't been realized. When someone young takes their own life, I feel more of a resentment at potential having been wasted. It was good to revisit (and in one case, discover) the works of these three artists. Sad, also, to realize that nothing more will be coming from them.


Nick said...

Interesting thing about Nick Drake... at least as it relates to me is how I discovered his music. I had never really heard of him at all until a few years ago.

Then Nicole and I were sitting around watching TV and this VW commercial came. We both really enjoyed the song that was playing in the background, but had no clue who it was. A little internet searching by me, and I discovered that it was Pink Moon by Nick Drake. I bought a couple CDs of it for her, and we've both been listening to stuff of his since.

Be said...

The movie had feel of an Arnold campaign, actually, though I think it came out before the Volkswagon ads did.

When (was it Rhino? Or Rykodisk? I forget) rereleased his stuff in the late 90s, Hal ran out and got it all. He'd loved him in college, but found it next to impossible to find the albums (even used). First thing I'd ever heard by him was Hal singing me "Time Has Told Me," which he says reminds him of me (he's more of a romantic than I am).