Daniel Lanois – Here Is What Is – [DVD]

Thursday, 03 April 2008

Daniel Lanois’ film Here Is What Is may be not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is a music masterpiece, and one that profoundly enthralled me.

Prior to the screening at the Vista Theatre in Silver Lake, there was a brief performance by Lanois alongside his drummer/compatriot Brian Blade, bassist Daryl Johnson and keyboardist Aaron Embry. Special guests included Brian Blade, Sr., who brought the house down with a rousing gospel number, “This May Be The Last Time,” an Argentinean burlesque dancer who performed during one song and Billy Bob Thornton who performed a monologue from Sling Blade while Lanois played. The latter may seem like an odd choice and even Thornton conceded that however, when he explained afterward how the two became acquainted during the scoring of Sling Blade it made more sense. He also came off as extremely down to earth and genuine.

It’s kind of difficult to explain this film since it’s sort of like trying to explain an acid trip. You can convey the feelings and some of what you saw but no one is going to get it until they experience it themselves. And this metaphor is particularly fitting since Here Is What Is is a surprisingly psychedelic film.

On Lanois’ site, one critic describes it as “part home movie, part documentary, part travelogue” and that’s pretty accurate. Particularly the "home movie" part. This is a film made for musicians. Any gear head out there obsessed with twiddling knobs and bizarre instrumentation is going to love it. This is a film for the people who stay up until four in the morning trying to perfect some background sound that no one might even hear in the song.

The conversations with Brian Eno were one of my absolute favorite aspects of this film. Eno has such a genius mind and the matter-of-fact way in which he explains music makes production seem almost easy. The footage of Lanois and Eno with U2 in Morocco is also brilliant.

As you watch the musicians Lanois produces ranging from Sinead O’Connor and Emmy Lou Harris to Aaron Neville, there is a very organic sense in the whole affair. Although the film clearly illustrates to the viewer the fact that Lanois is an extremely important producer, I couldn’t help but think that he could probably be much more famous if he really wanted to be. And that fact, coupled with his boyish enthusiasm for approaching music and musicians, was what I found so inspiring. I tend to admire those artists who seem to create great work in a quiet fashion. It doesn’t mean they don’t have egos, but perhaps they aren’t being steered by them as much as others.

So, as stated, from a cinematic perspective it can be choppy and sometimes esoteric. The bits with the dancer strewn in throughout the movie seemed out of place to me personally (although I’m sure most men won’t be bothered by it). However, Lanois and his filmmaker Adam Vollick create a film that has soul.

It’s funny, when the movie ended, a documentary director sitting next to me told me he didn’t quite get it and thought it might be too ego-driven. I disagreed and politely asked him if he played music. He said he didn’t. I said, “I think if you were a musician, it would make sense to you. Because I’m so inspired I want to go home and play piano for three hours now.”

It’s a movie that moves not from a place of intellect per sé, but intuition. I could logically take it apart for you and explain why but that would kill it. Said simply, it’s unabashedly made for disciples of the church of rock. I’m so entrenched in that world that it’s hard to think otherwise but I could see how the average person, like my mom, could find it hard to grasp what’s so interesting about some guy sitting at a console talking about spending all night making sound arrangements with Eno for a Harold Budd recording. To those of us who appreciate Lanois and Eno however, it’s the kind of insider knowledge that causes eyes to grow wide with giddy wonder.

I will definitely be buying this one…and playing my piano far more often.

Here Is What Is will be released April 15, 2008, on Red Floor Records.


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