TIFF 2013 – What is to Give Light, Must Endure Burning: Frank Pavich’s JODOROWSKY’S DUNE


JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is so much more than a documentary about the cult filmmaker’s infamously ambitious attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s about more than the pitfalls of the Hollywood system, or about its tendency towards stifling creativity. It’s about what it means to put your heart and soul into a piece of art, only to have it taken away from you and never properly realized. As Richard Stanley – one of the guest filmmakers featured in the film – describes it, it is the inability to exorcise a project which you’ve allowed to live under your skin for so long.

And that’s really what is at the core of Pavich’s exploration of the failed project: this lack of closure and release. Though the film is packed full of amazing interviews, images and ideas from the project, the entire affair is overshadowed by the fact that all of this work, all this passion, was eventually all for naught. Sure, it’s fun to hear Jodorowsky wax nostalgic about the film (some of his stories are downright hilarious), but it’s hard to forget that the intensity and depth of the project will eventually amount to nothing. It definitely lends a more sinister and saddening subtext to the film.

But it also happens to be what gives the film its emotional weight. Any artist who has ever had a project – one which they’d invested so much of themselves into – fall apart knows the feeling: that crippling disappointment, that knowledge that this thing you wanted more than anything to bring into the world will probably never see the light of day. It’s a heavy burden for some, though maybe not for others – some artists may find that they are simply able to move onto the next project without any emotional devastation. Jodorowsky is not one of these people, and it’s evident over the course of the film that he still has deep, emotional ties to DUNE.

Pavich’s documentary is blanketed with this feeling of disappointment, and even in spite of all the fun, all the wonder, all the general good vibes, there is still a longing underneath it all. So when the titular filmmaker finally explodes at the end of the film, when he finally lets out his anger and his rage at the almighty dollar for killing his dream, it’s a deeply satisfying moment.

Jodorowsky makes for a wonderful subject, and Pavich and co. do a terrific job of capturing the filmmaker’s humanity, his idiosyncrasies and his joyful nature. Though they briefly contextualize his career, they wisely devote the bulk of the film to the titular project; it is, after all, a deeply compelling “what-if” film that could have had serious ramifications for the genre and Hollywood as a whole. It includes interviews with contemporary filmmakers (like the aforementioned Stanley, as well as Nicolas Winding Refn), critics (Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci) and several of the artists involved (H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, Amanda Lear and Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontis), painting a vivid picture of what the film meant at the time of its inception, as well as in the many decades since.

Giving unprecedented access to the project’s storyboards, concept art, script decisions, casting stories and more, this is the definitive resource for fans of the filmmaker, the franchise and for cinema historians as a whole.


d.a. garabedian


Mantra: Dave Grohl’s SOUND CITY

6-e1c89e4912ef6f21dc643e681fc168c9Dave Grohl’s SOUND CITY is the first great film of 2013. As his directorial debut (specifically in the documentary genre), it lacks nothing in the way of surety: shots are eloquently framed, interviews are casual, insightful and cut to the bone and his pacing is rock solid. One finds it easy to forget that this is the same man who screams bloody murder into microphones for a living.

But Grohl is a man of many talents, as he so perfectly explains in a clip which did not make it into the final film. After hearing an instrumental piece as a child – one which offered a solo passage to each of the instruments involved – he became obsessed with the idea of trying his hand at, and eventually mastering, each of them in turn – guitars, drums, et al. And so the grown-up Grohl has since proved to the world: the legendary drummer behind one of the most influential bands of the past 20 years and a powerful songwriter, vocalist and guitarist in his own right, the man has become a spokesman for this generation of rock music. And now he can add filmmaker to that list of admittedly blush-worthy talents.

SOUND CITY follows, for the most part, the story of the iconic and titular studio since its inception in 1969. The film essentially boils down to the history of rock ‘n’ roll over the past 50-odd years, filtered and magnified through the presence of this single studio and the people who ran it, used it and created inside of it. Rick Springfield, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Ratt (all of whom appear in the film – plus many, many more)… The studio defies generations and genres, but it holds one simple truth as a common thread: the importance of artistic creation and, perhaps more importantly, the importance of the human element behind that creation.

For the most part, Grohl’s focus finds itself centred entirely on the studio’s mixing console, known as the Neve Board. This board is one of only a handful that was ever made, and is essentially a one-of-a-kind artifact, left lingering as the days of analogue music recording have hit their lowest point in history. The importance of this board cannot be understated, and Grohl wisely focuses on it. It is a unifying presence amongst these impossibly diverse but equally brilliant musicians; the thing which helped make them the people that they are today. Grohl is adamant about this: Nirvana recorded NEVERMIND in that studio, on that board, and it changed his life.

Though to many non-musicians, the importance of the particulars of this technology may be lost, but Grohl does a perfectly satisfactory job in describing just how meaningful the presence of it (particularly as counterpointed against the digital age, which plays a strong role in the middle portion of the film) is to the creation of the music through which it was recorded. It’s hard to accurately describe the exact reason why this board is so special without getting into brain-melting, scientific particulars which will inevitably be lost on the non-musician, so Grohl smartly sidesteps it. In fact, in one of the funniest scenes in the film, the filmmaker gets Rupert Neve himself (the engineer who designed and built the console) to explain the particulars – which are quickly lost on Grohl’s glazed-over eyes.

Because that is essentially what SOUND CITY boils down to: it doesn’t matter how these things work. It doesn’t matter that the studio is a mess, or that nobody can explain just why the reverb and decay of a certain room in the studio makes it, against all logic, the perfect place to record drum tracks. It just matters that there’s some sort of magic in this place, and that it comes through in the music. It helps create the art, through engineering, or luck, or plain old witchcraft. It just works, because you can feel it.

And that’s what ultimately makes this film so special. After an hour or so of delving extremely successfully into the history of rock ‘n’ roll as it exists around this studio, Grohl pivots the film into something else entirely. Following the history of Sound City Studios up until the very moment when the place closed its doors forever a few years back, the musician-turned-filmmaker buys that console and continues its legacy in his own studio. He invites back all of the musicians whose lives have been changed by it, and they record what will become the official soundtrack to this movie: a series of brand new songs, written in collaboration by some of the greatest rock musicians to ever live.

This is where the film transcends itself to become something truly magnificent. I simply cannot remember the last time I was moved to so much joy as I was in the last 40-or-so minutes of this film. The entire “Real to Reel” segment is so creatively stimulating, so emotionally poignant and so downright celebratory that it defies description. Perhaps this is a fact that will be lost on the non-musical viewer, but for anybody who has ever played an instrument, or followed a band, or just been a true fan of music – this is something you are not likely to ever experience again.

It’s over a half an hour of some of the greatest musicians in the world, gathered around the mixing board that helped make them the artists that they are today and creating new music together. The process is fascinating and, frankly, humbling: when Grohl, Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age) and Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) get together in a room and slowly work out the specifics of a brand new song (“Mantra”) that they are writing on the spot, you get a real feeling for just how impossibly talented these people are. And bringing them together around this metaphorical personification of what the music industry used to be is a powerful and exhilarating message.

And when Sir Paul McCartney himself joins all of the surviving members of Nirvana to write what will eventually be known as “Cut Me Some Slack”, one gets the feeling that you’re witnessing the entire history of an art form encapsulated in one room, in one moment.

“Why can’t it always be this easy?” asks Grohl.

“It is,” replies McCartney.

And if that’s not enough to make you want to follow your dreams, I’m not sure what will.


d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2012 – This is War: Bartholomew Cubbins’ ARTIFACT

The music industry is in a tricky place, and it has been for several years now. And no, that’s not all because of file-sharing (even though it sure does have a hell of a lot to do with it); there are a lot of intricate and complex political, economic and technological issues going on behind-the-scenes of all of your favorite bands. In fact, many of them probably make less money than you do; not just less, but significantly less. Most bands these days are in debt so deeply to the record labels that there is no hope of them ever getting out again.

Enter 30 Seconds to Mars, the band fronted by actor / director / musician / artist Jared Leto. Along with his brother Shannon and fellow band-mate Tomo Miličević, the three musicians collectively encompass an alternative rock group which has sold in excess of six million records worldwide after only releasing three albums. In today’s music climate, that’s not just a rare thing – it’s unheard of. It categorically places them amongst the pantheon of some of the most successful artists in rock music working today. And in spite of all of this success, the band is somehow still nearly $2 million in debt to their record label. They have never seen a dime of the estimated $60 million that their album sales alone have brought in.

This is Jared Leto’s (working under his popular, directorial pseudonym, Bart Cubbins) ARTIFACT, the artist’s feature-length debut as a director. The documentary may just be the most definitive film yet produced on the state of the contemporary rock ‘n’ roll scene: with interviewees that span from a who’s-who of former record label COOs, presidents and other businessman to contemporary superstars like Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, System of a Down’s Serj Tankian and Incubus’ Brandon Boyd, the film uses the people who are actually involved in the business to give an unprecedented look into the increasing amount of corporate greed surrounding today’s music scene.

Where the film is most successful isn’t in its objectively systematic dissection of record label politics, but rather in its framework: ARTIFACT is not just an account of 30 Seconds to Mars’ struggle with record label EMI, it’s also an intimate look at how the creative process has become impeded by back-door politics and economic jargon that has little to nothing to do with musicians or what they are trying to do. Following in the wake of an apparent breach-of-contract with their record label – wherein the band attempted to terminate said contract – the trio of musicians found themselves unexpectedly being sued by their own record label – to the tune of $30 million. The film follows their simultaneous battle against the lawsuit and the recording of their third album, THIS IS WAR.

What Leto has to say about the record industry is things that many musicians have already been screaming for years: that it’s corrupt, that there is incessant level of greed dominating everything and that it’s led by self-serving business types who have little knowledge of the actual industry and care more about themselves than about the company or their employees. Leto’s animations and narrations explaining the true economics of rock music may be surprising to some, but it’s becoming increasingly common knowledge in a world of independent superstars and crowd-source-funded albums that the contracts between record labels and their artists is borderline criminal, a hodgepodge of legal hokum from which artists become trapped, with no hope of actually generating sustainable income. It’s an important footnote on an industry whose primary function isn’t just generating capital and entertainment, but art.

But, again, Leto’s call-to-arms over the injustices of his industry would be quickly lost had they not had the framework of the THIS IS WAR sessions to drive home the juxtaposition of art and business. Taking as broad a canvas as possible, Leto interviews everybody he can get his hands on, all while simultaneously exploring the history of his band, the personal relationships between its members and how the horrors of the industry have begun to affect (both positively and negatively) the most important artistic output of his career. Peppered with lush, haunting instrumentals (all of which from the THIS IS WAR sessions; some a-sides and some not), ARTIFACT does a terrific job of driving home not only Leto’s personal struggles as an artist, but just how frustrating a business that exists in a medium of self-expression can really be.

As 30 Seconds to Mars dives headfirst into crafting an independently-funded album with the hope that their lawsuit will be settled in time for them to release it, Leto carefully constructs a narrative that never becomes overly preachy, nor overly sentimental; just as things become a little bit too heady, the director ensures that we take a quick left turn into the realm of the personal and intimate in order to balance it out.

Anybody who has been aware of “Cubbins'” directorial style through any of the alternative rock group’s music videos (which should really be called short films – they range from five to 13 minutes in length, and have been shot in world record-setting locations as diverse as the Republic of China and north of the Arctic Circle) should know by now that the actor has picked up a few flourishes from the incredibly high caliber of directors that he has worked with and become friends with over the years: there are often dark, noir-esque nods to David Fincher in his works, not to mention the surrealist (and the more contemporary, brutally realist) styling of Darren Aronofsky. On ARTIFACT, Leto is less reliant on his acquainted influences and merely shoots the film in subdued, simplistic fashion. Which is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing for a documentary.

ARTIFACT is an interesting film for several reasons, most notably because it brings Leto’s wonderful eye for compositions and direction into the realm of features for the first time. What the film truly is, however, is a celebration of everything music-related, and a fascinating peek inside of an industry that has become infamously idealized – one where outdated models, expectations and relationships have given a new generation a violently skewed perspective on how it operates. If music lovers – fans, creatives and the corporates – all got to take a look at this film, we might be on our way to figuring out how to make this industry sustainable again.


d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2012 – Seeing What You Want to See: Rodney Ascher’s ROOM 237

Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING is, simply put, one of the finest horror films ever made. Its wonderfully surrealistic aesthetic and narrative lends a certain dream-like quality to the whole affair that leaves large portions of the film completely up to interpretation. That’s the way Kubrick wanted it: THE SHINING is like a puzzle with no borders and, well, no real picture to speak of.

But I don’t think Kubrick would have ever expected the way audiences have begun to force those puzzle pieces together. And if you’ll excuse my unnecessary dedication to this analogy for another sentence or two: just because you can jam two pieces together, doesn’t mean they actually fit. If anything, you’re just bending them to the point where they might not actually fit in the places they were originally supposed to.

There. I got it out of my system.

Rodney Ascher’s ROOM 237 is a baffling documentary, firstly because of the fact that I’m not even certain that I want to call it a documentary (neither does the filmmaker himself, according to his Q&A after the world premiere last night); it’s really more of a 104-minute lecture on conspiracy theories with very few cinematic qualities to speak of. This isn’t necessarily a knock against the film, as it was an artistic choice; one made by necessity, perhaps, but one that was made nonetheless. Interviewees exist entirely within the confines of the audio, floating like ghostly specters over scene after scene of found footage.

Because, curiously, ROOM 237 is made up mostly (possibly entirely) of existing footage, large portions of which come from both the Kubrick film in question as well as several of his other works. In this way, Ascher has essentially created a remediated work, something not wholly dissimilar from what you’d find on YouTube: fans narrating over existing footage, informing you of their theories and ideas. Which is basically all ROOM 237 is: all tell, no show.

The film, divided into nine segments, essentially follows around a half dozen conspiracy theorists as they wax philosophical on their increasingly bizarre interpretations of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Some are vaguely compelling – like the relationship between the film and the Native American genocide – while most are just absolutely, utterly insane, the wild meanderings of fans who have over-analyzed Kubrick’s film into oblivion; one reference to the Holocaust leads into another until suddenly we’re talking about Stanley Kubrick being the man who filmed the faked Moon landing, and that THE SHINING is a government-covered-up allegory for his experience with the deception.

What’s unfortunate is how much material there is to be mined out of the concept, and how little actually winds up on screen. In spite of the fact that Ascher makes clever juxtapositions between the found-footage on screen and what is being said by the interviewees – sometimes with a hint of judgment, most times not – he never actually delves into this obsessive-compulsive behavior and absurdly detailed analysis. That’s where the story is, but Ascher seems completely disinterested in telling it; he’s more concerned with dictating these theories to his audience, which is strange, unless he really just wants to get the word out about what happens when you play the film backwards and forwards at the same time.

The film is funny (often at the expense of the interviewees), but more in a “what am I watching?” kind of way, rather than in a genuine “this is awesome!” kind of way. And that’s really the extent of what can be said about this film: it’s a film for people who want to be preached to for the better part of two hours about theories that they will likely find absurd and dismiss completely. Any notions about the extremes of people’s willingness to create meaning out of an intentionally presented vacuum are ignored, and that’s really the only thing that could be spoken about. ROOM 237 is the equivalent of reading conspiracy theories on the internet for a couple of hours, and nothing more.


d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2012 – This Thing, All Things Devours: Peter Mettler’s THE END OF TIME

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

The passage of time is a curious thing – one that lends itself to all manner of philosophical, spiritual, scientific and, well, universal thought experiments. It is considered by many to be one of the most elegantly paradoxical and unquestionably important studies to all of mankind, as it affects us more significantly than nearly any other thing / idea / question in existence. So, when the Genie-winning, Canadian visionary Peter Mettler announced that the topic of his latest film, THE END OF TIME, would address just that, the bar was set fairly high. And, unfortunately, it never quite reaches the heights it strives to hit, even if it gets pretty damned close a handful of times.

Opening on a sickeningly heart-wrenching recap of Joseph Kittinger’s helium-balloon journey into the stratosphere and his subsequent dive back down to Earth, Mettler sets the tone for his film immediately: throbbing, atmospheric sonic textures dance behind stunningly beautiful visuals of the Air Force officer floating through the air on his impossible journey down through the clouds. Time speeds up and slows down with frighteningly human perceptiveness. Images float in and out of focus and frame. You are there with Kittinger, falling through the clouds, and every perfectly chosen word that spills from Mettler’s narration reminds you of the elasticity of the flow of our concept of time.

Then, the film starts to settle in. While THE END OF TIME features some of the most beautiful cinematography you are likely to see all year, Mettler seems merely content to transform his film into a veritable Rorschach Test for one’s own perception of time; a meaningful and powerful idea, but one devoid of any thought process beyond that which already exists in the viewer’s mind. Lava flows over a once-fertile, forested area. Weeds grow up through a sidewalk and over abandoned vehicles. Leaves bud, grow and die over the course of the seasons. And while the visuals are breathtaking, and Mettler gives the viewer more than enough time with each image for them to pour their own consciousness into the film itself, it never really reaches for anything more. For a film that lends itself to such theoretically abstract ideologies, it’s notably devoid of ideas. Instead, we’re merely treated to gorgeous visual after gorgeous visual, all within the tragic grasp of time’s icy hand. Architecture and infrastructure, agriculture and nature itself – not one is free from the tyranny of time’s flow.

But the film does feature a handful of powerful sequences, most notably in the moments where Mettler abandons his Rorschach approach and instead reaches for a human connection. In a pair of scenes – the former, a sequence which features a group of female, Hawaiian dancers and the latter, a techno concert – Mettler strives to imbue his film with its own thesis, crafting imagery that seeks to actually capture the feeling of Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity; something which the filmmaker references multiple times within the text itself. In these sequences, audio and video lag and fail to accurately synchronize, switching from subject to subject as we appreciate the distinction between each conscious being’s temporal perception: an old woman, still mouthing the words long after the music has stopped, soaking in the moment; a young woman, focused more on the delicate formation of her limbs than on her surroundings.

Then, in the climactic techno sequence, Mettler goes all-in on his Special Relativity exploration, diving into the crowd and capturing the impression of the moment from a variety of perspectives. The speed of the film accelerates and decelerates with shockingly intimate insight into each subject’s perception of the moment. The camera focuses on individual moments, rather than the scene – a bright glow-stick, a writhing hand, a faceless smile. It’s an incredible series of moments, and something that one wishes the director had felt more inclined to explore instead of the detached abstraction of time’s flow in relation to mankind that he settled on. Exploration of humanity will always trump exploration of mankind.

And though Mettler leaps headfirst into his film with an intimate look at the CERN super-collider, his approach to interviewing the scientists is admittedly disinterested: he cuts too early or too late for the audience to take the scientific jargon with any kind of seriousness (an almost-certainly intentional decision), and the overlapping snippets of dialogue come across as an overly detached curiosity of a meaningless perspective.

Still, the geometric images at the climax of the film are beautifully rendered, and are some of the trippiest visuals in this viewer’s recent memory. The sporadic spikes of brilliance peppered amongst the beautiful cinematography should be enough to get most viewers interested, but Mettler’s insistence on the abstract and allowing the viewer to reflectively analyze their own ideas about time is to the film’s detriment. A more curious (but no less abstract) exploration of the philosophical and spiritual consequences of time might have pushed this film from good to great.


d.a. garabedian

A Boy Without Skin, Vulnerable to Everything: Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky’s INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE

From first-time filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky comes INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE, a bold documentary that seeks to shine a light on one of the most tragically misunderstood art forms in contemporary society: video gaming. Filmed from three distinct vantage points – Jonathan Blow (creator of BRAID), Phil Fish (creator of FEZ) and “Team Meat”, consisting of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (creators of SUPER MEAT BOY) – INDIE GAME takes all of our romantic notions about the struggling artist and throws them out the window, instead opting to show a more human, realistic depiction: pale, isolated nerds in front of computer screens that have poured their hearts, minds and souls into line after line of code, all with the single-minded goal of reaching out and connecting with the rest of the world. Because that’s what this film is really about: the inherent need that every artist has to form some bond between themselves and the audience – to feel useful, and needed, and relevant. And, to this end, Pajot and Swirsky succeed in spades, crafting a triumphant story that’s fun, heartbreaking and inspiring, all in equal measure. As Fish himself declared at the Q&A after the film (which was simulcasted to almost 40 screenings nationwide through HotDocs): there will be children today who watch this film and decide that what they want to do with the rest of their lives is make games, and that’s amazing.

What’s remarkable about the film is how it doesn’t treat video games like some oddity to be dissected and explained. Instead, Pajot and Swirsky opt to simply thrust us into the lives of these four programmers, giving us access to their dreams, their fears and ultimately their reason for getting up in the morning. Marriages and social lives are sacrificed, lawsuits are filed and emotional stability is in constant flux as the artists (for artists they are) beat themselves bloody against monitors and keyboards, the only canvas they know how to see themselves in. And as I watched these men laugh and cry and scream in frustration, I found myself wanting nothing more in the entire world than to see them succeed against the commercialized, corporate bullshit that constantly seeks to crush them. I wanted to shake down every fanboy who spouts anonymous hate on the internet at any of these well-meaning men, to show them what their nonchalant comments can do to the psyche of a fragile, isolated artist.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the internet plays a massive role in INDIE GAME. It was mentioned in the Q&A how fan forums and the general web of online information essentially play the fifth character in the film – one of three true antagonists (the other two being the monopolized corporations and the artists themselves, though Fish has the unpleasant fourth hurdle of being in a lawsuit with his former, unnamed business partner). And though it starts innocently and funnily enough – a montage of excited user comments from a fan forum, championing and celebrating one of the impending releases – things quickly turn hostile and vicious, with fans calling out the programmers for not getting the games out in time (or because they decide that they don’t like what they see) and leaving our heroes to wallow in despair as they do their very best to please thousands of people they will never meet. It’s a depressing and eye-opening reality that many consumers will never truly understand: that their tendencies towards negative anonymity has a real, tangible effect on the people who are just trying to make them happy. That this is more than a business transaction to them; they’re trying so, so hard to connect to other people through the only outlet they can. And what they get instead is a sea of falsely entitled whiners, many of whom will never actually appreciate how much blood, sweat and tears goes into the product that they’re stamping their feet over for one reason or the other. Even in spite of the amazing reviews that BRAID receives upon its launch, Blow still spirals downwards into depression, shouting desperately for somebody to understand the game – not just play it. To see the man behind the code. To understand the man behind the code.

And if dealing with belligerent fans and one’s own demons weren’t enough, our heroes still have to overcome the nearly impossible hurdles that are the big corporations of the video game industry. In this way, INDIE GAME becomes something of a parable for all contemporary art as it becomes commercialized and distilled down. Fish and co. spit out facts with obvious rage, trying to plead their case for how much the deck is stacked against them: while the newest GRAND THEFT AUTO game took five years and a staff of 1000 (one-thousand!) to complete, Fish has spent a similar length of time working on FEZ with one other person. One. Still, the fans violently clamour for more, threatening to move on to greener pastures as their attention wanes. And it’s not just limited resources that hold them back, either; Microsoft is shown explicitly screwing over “Team Meat” in their launch day marketing campaign, proving how little big business cares about the little guys.

Is it all worth it? Maybe. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the film gets a (mostly) happy ending, as all of the games (with the exception of FEZ, which hadn’t launched yet at the time of the film’s completion – it has since gone on to find huge success) find great success, both critically and commercially. Yet the turmoil that these artists undergo is ongoing, and the validation of their hard work is treated as a true victory by some and a false, unreality by others. But, then again, if they weren’t struggling, they wouldn’t be real artists – would they?

INDIE GAME is a huge success of a documentary, and despite its obvious appeal to gamers, it’s a triumphant story for artists of any medium. It’s a rare, optimistic look at how contemporary artists can still overcome the absurd monopolies of their respective industries, and it should be celebrated for that alone.

Everybody loves an underdog story.


d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: Rodman Flender’s CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP

In many ways, CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP is the vague, thematic equivalent of Judd Apatow’s criminally underrated FUNNY PEOPLE. As a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most trying periods in his career, it’s hard not to sympathize with O’Brien’s almost patronizing off-stage antics. Underneath the surface of CoCo’s hilarious demeanor, there is an uncomfortable rage and misery that bubbles its way up over the course of the documentary; the only question is whether or not it’s intended as humor.

While on stage, the comedian is thoroughly in his element. At one point in the film, one of his crew acknowledges the fact that he seems to be having genuine fun during his show – in spite of the numerous shots scattered throughout depicting him alone, isolated and completely floundering. It’s this juxtaposition of moments – his absurd stage persona versus his crass, insulting, off-stage one – that makes the film something more interesting than it would initially appear.

So what does it all mean? Not much. Though CAN’T STOP is an interesting look into a television personality’s identity when the cameras are off – even when they’re not – it doesn’t really go beyond that; in the end, it doesn’t have much to say, and despite scratching the surface of the complexity of comedic personalities, it never digs deep enough to warrant any provocation of thought. Still, it’s worth a watch for CoCo fans – even if they might not look at O’Brien the same way again after watching him wrestle with his demons – and the way it exemplifies the toll that loss of purpose can take on a man is interesting enough to make it watchable.


d.a. garabedian