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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

June 5, 2005
Rating: 8.5/10

Recounting the history of any subject can prove to be an extremely difficult undertaking. By its very nature, the documentary process creates a struggle between the need for balance and objectivity with the desire for closure to a topic matter that invariably becomes nearly inseparable to those chronicling it. For Bradley Beesley and his new film, that struggle was palpable, as his was not just any subject matter.

Over the last 15 years, the Austin, Texas based filmmaker Beesley has compiled the visual footage, firsthand experience and extensive background knowledge for what is now Fearless Freaks, a retrospective story of the career of the Flaming Lips. Beesley is no stranger to creative filmwork or to the band, having directed many of the Lips' music videos, but rather than concoct a flashy, glossed-over biopic he chose to deliver a clear-glass look at the Oklahoma City art-rockers. The challenge for Beesley - one which he accepts and eventually excels at - is to be factual and straight-forward while covering a band whose members are engulfed in being overwhelmingly creative, both visually and mentally.

Fearless Freaks is a story told from the viewpoint of a reporter who has gained access to the eccentric world of the Flaming Lips but is not overwhelmed by that admission. Instead of overindulging in a subject screaming to be gushed over, Beesley fairly paints the picture of a band that was never really supposed to amount to much, a band that has gone through several members, written 11 albums, survived a drug addiction, and lasted through circumstances of poverty.

To put it modestly, in a world of cliché rock stories, the Flaming Lips are no exception, and Fearless Freaks makes that apparent. The film depicts the band's progression from a high school garage rock band to a noisy grunge bar band before taking flight under the unconventional vision of Wayne Coyne and the musical genius of Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins as they matured in their songwriting skills.

The course of the film feels like one of Coyne's focused, conceptualized projects and it is no mistake that he plays the focal character. You see him in his home, which is not the posh hipster haven of San Francisco or the artsy cityscape of New York City, but instead the down-home feeling Oklahoma City. To illustrate the coziness of his daily life, Coyne walks down the street, shadowed by the camera from the other sidewalk, stopping to speak with a group of men sitting in a yard. Not one of the men realizes who Coyne is. Instead, they are interested in the camera. That average-Joe-gone-niche-icon point is pressed throughout the film, highlighting the stark reality of the real world behind the Flaming Lips' exceptional career.

As one might imagine with so brash a subject, the Flaming Lips essentially write their own story, but to his credit Beesley has also provided depth to the often overwhelming inside perspective. The first half of the film examines each of the main members' humble, disjointed social beginnings and the cohesion that was not always apparent in their earliest and most awkward musical stages. The acquisition of success can prove to be difficult for any artist, but Beesley avoids dwelling on the hurdles of stardom; Fearless Freaks offers plenty of refreshing moments like when, near the film's end, we see Coyne crawling over a concert audience in a plastic bubble, or Drozd dancing with his wife at their wedding, or Ivins, smiling, dressed in a zebra costume.

The best music documentaries are those which encompass not only the choice performance shots but also the True Hollywood Story detail and grit. To both of those ends Fearless Freaks succeeds, and Beesley proves especially adept at the element of inside storytelling. In fact the most captivating moments aren't those rare live performances but rather those moments that capture the personalities of the Flaming Lips as individuals. One such moment - one that is easily the most real of the entire film - is a segment in which Drozd is struggling to overcome his heroin addiction. The camera cuts back and forth between Coyne's side of the story, about how the frustration boiled over into him punching Drozd, and an off camera Drozd who is preparing a needle and shooting up.

Fan or no fan, Fearless Freaks delivers the viewer a plethora of sides of the Flaming Lips, although during a couple chapters the footage choices have something to be desired. At one point, the film focuses on Wayne's job at Long John Silvers and has him re-enact a robbery that once occurred while he was working. Although comical, the film clip takes up more time than it is worth, especially considering the goldmine of material that is bound to be left out of any such documentary.

For the most part though, Beesely succeeds in telling the history - both intimate and general - of one of the greatest rock bands of our time. Fearless Freaks is worth the 110 minutes of time it takes to unfurl, and when complimented with the additional hour and a half of bonus material on the second DVD it amounts to the most essential piece of Flaming Lips merchandise outside of their albums.

SEE ALSO: www.flaminglips.com
SEE ALSO: www.shoutfactory.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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