Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Rock 'N Roll Lifestyle (documented)

Cory Oberndorfer

I was fortunate enough about a year and a half ago to catch a screening of a film at Sundance called Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out. It was composed almost entirely of archived footage shot by The Police drummer Stewart Copeland on his Super 8 camera. Over twenty years after the dissolution of the band, Copeland began sorting through reels of home videos made from early in the band’s existence up until their very last photo shoot. It reinforces the “life on the road” standard for touring musicians. A life of performances, photo shoots, traveling and, after success, throngs of adoring fans and groupies. All of this is done with an entourage of bandmates, roadies and organizers. The opportunity to play with Super 8 is obviously a pleasant distraction.
The film itself does not formulate too much more than home movies documenting moments in time. The playful nature overshadows the opportunity that would have been available to provide an intimate look inside one of the biggest bands of the time. Instead, we see a few guys just goofing off, enjoying their celebrity. This was reinforced during Copeland’s Q & A session, where he seemed to still be living in the time when he was a celebrity and relished in his stories of fame, wealth and women. His solipsistic attitude explained why the camera was focused on him during most of the film.
The film did not disappoint my expectations. It provided a healthy dose of nostalgia for those who grew up enjoying the band’s music and is more than likely one of the instigating factors for their current reunion tour. More than anything, Stewart Copeland merely passed on his “pleasant distraction” for 74 minutes.

Eighteen months later, The Police have kicked off their world tour, selling out large venues and enjoying their moment on top once again.

One day in late June I wandered into Frank Pictures Gallery in Santa Monica, California. The gallery was displaying a show of photographs taken by Andy Summers, The Police’s guitarist. Recalling my experience the year before, I was looking forward to a fun little experience with a musician and a camera. Instead, I found an artist who invested care, time and understanding to his craft. During his time on the road, Summers took some 25,000 pictures with his Leica camera. It is obvious that he found a sort of focus (pun not intended) with his camera. Rather than filming his existing world, Summers created his own universe from the world around him.
From the 32 photographs in the exhibit, the life of a musician is certainly documented in an expected fashion, but the execution of the photography transcends the mundane standard. Today, photographers have the luxury to snap off thousands of pictures and review them to find the few that turn out (I count myself among the guilty). However, Summers’ Leica forced him to plan his compositions and invest greater care in each image. Do these pictures only promote the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll stereotype? Certainly. But the results also capture an intimacy that can only be told from the inside. It’s photographs such as these and Annie Leibovitz’s that define the era of music. Cameron Crowe and John Toll were certainly influenced by these artists when they filmed Almost Famous.
Needless to say, the photographs of Andy Summers filled the void that Copeland did not even attempt to enter, and for those wondering, Summers is lugging around camera equipment on his current world tour.

Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out is available on DVD.
I’ll Be Watching You: Inside the Police 1980-83, a book of photographs by Summers printed by Taschen is soon available, including over 600 photographs.