Alternative rock band Arcade Fire premiered its highly anticipated documentary “The Reflektor Tapes” in theatres around the world Wednesday, including Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre.
The band’s 2013 album “Reflektor” ditched the angsty, bleak undertones of its previous LP “The Suburbs,” 2010, for dance music, disco balls and ambiguous lyrical references to Greek mythology and Joan of Arc. The album demands the listener’s full attention and so does the documentary chronicling its development.
The 75-minute film archives Arcade Fire’s Reflektor-era. From footage of recording sessions in Jamaica to performances of arena shows on the Reflektor Tour, Arcade Fire and director Kahlil Joseph give audiences insight into the obscure, prismatic world of “Reflektor.”
The best way to describe the film as a whole would be beautifully incoherent. With no chronological storyline and minimal interviews with the band, the film flashes from gorgeous performance shot to even more gorgeous performance shot. Small bits of spiritual, yet vague narration from front man and woman Win Butler and Régine Chassange are dispersed throughout the duration of the film, and the audience sees how the countries of Jamaica and Haiti sonically influenced the album.
While the movie is beautiful to watch, it can be messy. Black and white footage of exciting, intimate club shows is interspersed with vibrant scenes of crowds at Carnival in Haiti. At one moment Will Butler, guitarist and Win’s brother, is smashing his head through a drum hat onstage and in the next Win Butler is in the studio recalling a dream he had in which Elvis spoke to him. Songs from “Reflektor” such as “Flashbulb Eyes,” “Here Comes the Night Time” and “We Exist,” blare over the collage like scenes, creating sensory overload and at some points confusion. Arcade Fire seem to have taken a lesson from its idols The Talking Heads and decided to stop making sense for most of the movie.
It is easy to become lost in Arcade Fire’s world of flashing lights, face paint, intricate suits and paper mache heads. Through all the theatrics, the question arises, “What does this film really have to say about the band’s relationships and about the music?”
When you start to look for a point, this is where you should stop. “The Reflektor Tapes” is a visual experience in which the band shows us what the music looks like to them, from the album’s birth in Jamaica to its maturation on arena stages. There isn’t much of a point beyond this.
The lack of discussion regarding the music is on purpose, for the band created the documentary to be a display of its music, not an explanation.
“People come to groups at different points in their career; it’s something I’ve always been acutely aware of,” said Win in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly. “If someone watches this in 20 years, they’ll get a sense of our world.”
The visual aspects of the Reflektor-era will live on forever, documented by this chaotic, yet carefully designed film. But in 20 years, when a 17-year-old finds a used copy of “Reflektor” at their music store, the interpretation of Arcade Fire’s music will be left completely up to him or her.
And isn’t that how it should be?
The Belcourt will have two more showings of The Reflektor Tapes, one on Friday and Saturday. Student tickets are $7.75 and can be purchased online or at the door.
This article was written by Jackie Zeisloft
Photo courtesy of IMDB