Road Movie” is a no-frills documentary snapshot of popular rockers R.E.M. in concert at the tail end of their recent world tour. Pic concentrates exclusively on live performance footage; director Peter Care, a rock-video helmer, has not included any interview segments or history of the band, ensuring that “Road Movie” will appeal only to hard-core fans of Athens, Ga.’s most famous musical sons. Those not already won over by R.E.M.’s moody rock numbers will not be impressed by this slice of often-raunchy live rock.
The pic is not going to generate much business theatrically; Warner Reprise Video will release it on homevid Oct. 8. Over the past few years, R.E.M. has become one of the most influential U.S. bands on the international scene (Warner Bros. just paid $ 80 million to re-sign them), and the group’s legion of followers will help create strong support for the video release of “Road Movie.”
Care shot the final three nights of R.E.M.’s 1995 “Monster” tour at the Omni Theater in Atlanta, and the resulting set of songs culled from the three evenings includes most of the material from the “Monster” album, a couple of new songs from the just-released “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” disc, and a few of the outfit’s best-known old hits.
R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe dominates the proceedings, looking as striking as ever with his shaved head and trademark quirky stage moves. But he rarely speaks between tunes, and, even when he does, it’s often hard to catch exactly what he’s saying. One of the problems with the docu for non-R.E.M. fanatics is that the other three band members guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry tend to shy away from the eye-catching theatrics onstage, preferring to crank out the music with little fanfare.
First half of pic tends to the grungy, guitar-heavy end of the musical spectrum, with feedback-laden songs like “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,” but the band turns down the amps briefly for a memorable run through “Losing My Religion,” complete with Buck on mandolin and the addition of a fiddle player. Even “Man on the Moon,” another melodic tune, is given a tougher, more rocking treatment here, and Buck adds some gritty power chords to the tuneful “Everybody Hurts.”
In marked contrast to classic rock-concert pics like Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” and Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense,” “Road Movie” does not favor crisp, well-shot camerawork. Instead, pic revels in the chaotic, eye-popping lighting of an arena rock show, with lenser Lance Accord presenting wild, colorful washes, often heavy on blue and red; the frenzied effect is heightened by the rapid-fire editing that jumps from one musician to another.
The most intriguing visual elements are provided by the filmed backdrops to the stage, with often-psychedelic images by a number of artists, including James Hebert, Jem Cohen, Jim McKay, Dominic DeJoseph, Lance Bangs and helmer Gus Van Sant. The songs are the real stars here and, though “Road Movie” does not warrant a place on the video shelf alongside the best rockumentaries, it does serve as a reminder that R.E.M. is still one of the most vital, creative bands in contemporary rock.