Review: ‘Meeting People Is Easy’

Members of British rock band Radiohead have said they are baffled by their increasingly huge success. The ironically titled "Meeting People Is Easy" is a perfect expression of that discomfort, eschewing or downplaying nearly every standard "rock doc" satisfaction in favor of capturing the more dislocative, repetitious and soul-voiding aspects of an international tour.

Members of British rock band Radiohead have said they are baffled by their increasingly huge success. The ironically titled “Meeting People Is Easy” is a perfect expression of that discomfort, eschewing or downplaying nearly every standard “rock doc” satisfaction — especially cleanly recorded, sustained performance segs — in favor of capturing the more dislocative, repetitious and soul-voiding aspects of an international tour. Given that the band’s songs are much concerned with alienation in a technically oversophisticated world, fans should take this unique, texturally rich document as a fascinating visual extension. Anyone else, however, is likely to find it impenetrable and uninformative. Feature is now playing limited theatrical dates of the midnight and campus ilk; Capitol Records plans a simultaneous homevid and DVD release on May 4.

Having produced a fluke hit (“Creep”) with their first album, the Oxford-formed quintet has found itself in an odd position, making hauntingly introspective, adventuresome music to noisy press and public acclaim. While the members are careful not to indulge in much self-indulgent whining, they’re clearly not the sort to revel in flamboyant rock stardom.

Longtime band associate Grant Gee’s docu scrutinizes them in the wake of “OK Computer,” a third disc that instantly topped international critics’ polls on its 1997 release.

There follow endless interviews, personal appearances, award ceremonies, TV spots et al during a massive concert tour that stretches from Europe to the U.S. and Japan. Shot in B&W and distorted color, “Meeting” suggests how brain-numbing such an itinerary can be. The world travel seems like little more than a succession of interchangeable stadium halls, hotel rooms, parking lots, airports, radio stations and so forth, all facelessly utilitarian. Journalists ask the same questions over and over. Lead singer-songwriter Thom Yorke, clearly no stranger to self-doubt, seems particularly exhausted and exasperated by so much banal attention.

Pic is designed overall to amplify that queasiness. Nearly all songs are heard in drive-by fragments, indifferently recorded. We get no real idea what each group member is “like,” who they are to each other, or what angelic muse whispers this exquisitely pained music into whose ears.

Gee packs each minute with visual, editorial and sound-montage gambits that might say “MTV” if they weren’t ultimately in service of something far closer to video art than merchandising tool.

Pic does seem overlong by a half hour or so, but stands as a compelling, distinctive document nonetheless — albeit one whose chilly, rather abstract approach hardly extends an invite to general auds.

Meeting People Is Easy

U.K.

Production

A Seventh Art Releasing presentation of a Kudos production in association with Parlaphone. Produced by Dilly Gent. Directed by Grant Gee.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), sound recordist, Gee; editor, Jerry Chater. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, March 30, 1999. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Radiohead (Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood).
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