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19 août 2008

Lanois doc explores creative process

by Shawn Conner, Vancouver Courier, Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The documentary Here Is What Is, co-directed by cinematographer Adam Vollick (left), takes an arty, ramshackle approach in examining the creative process and the making of Daniel Lanois' album of the same name.

At one point during Here Is What Is, a new documentary featuring Daniel Lanois, there is a montage of album covers. Images of releases by the likes U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson, all produced by Lanois, flash by. However, one record is conspicuous by its absence, at least in the eyes of this writer. Where, I have to ask, is the cover of This is the Ice Age--a 1981 disc from Martha and the Muffins, produced by Lanois, and featuring his sister Jocelyne on bass?

"Not a whole ton of thought went into what was included," says Adam Vollick, the Here Is What Is co-director/cinematographer, reached in his hometown of Toronto. "I don't even think that one ever got tabled. We just quickly did a Google search and stole a bunch of images off the Internet. It was real fly-by-night addition."

Despite this sin of omission, the doc is a fascinating, if somewhat arty and ramshackle, document about the creative process in general and the making of Lanois' album of the same name in particular.

"The structure is meant to be a bit of a visual poem," says Vollick. The 30-year-old has known Lanois, 57, for five years, and began his career as a photographer. Under Lanois' mentorship, he's been moving into filmmaking and audio engineering.

"We didn't want to spell out, by having someone narrate, what the public is supposed to get out of it. If someone feels inspired enough to go out and do something they love after they've watched it, that makes me a real happy person. But basically, there was a massive amount of work that was done, and the criteria for something getting in was that it was touching, it had a vibe that was indisputable. Only those choicest moments got past the finish line."

A collage of studio and rehearsal performances, conversations and even dance sequences, Here Is What Is captures a number of memorable moments. Lanois jams with Irish super-group U2 in what looks like a hotel lobby but might well be Bono's bathroom. Actor/musician Billy Bob Thornton drops by chez Lanois to compare hats and drink the one Pabst Light he allows himself per day. However, by far the most interesting person in any room he's in is Brian Eno. The veteran British musician and producer, who has worked with Lanois on a number of projects, seems incapable of voicing a banal thought.

"There's absurdity in his kind of genius sometimes," says Vollick. "I wouldn't say any of it is normal."

The film mirrors Lanois' approach to musical textures by playing with the visuals. Negative images, flashes of neon colour, and mostly black and white film are used. "We tried to keep all the visualizations analogous to what was happening sonically," says the co-director. "We tried to find a visual to match the sort of lo-fi textures Dan uses in his music."

Among the film's more bizarre touches are the brief sequences featuring Carolina Cerisola. Lanois came across the burlesque performer at the Los Angeles club Forty Deuce. Every so often, the film cuts to Cerisola, shimmying and shaking suggestively across the screen.

"An artist always needs his muse," explains Vollick. "She's a symbol, just like all the other characters in the film, of somebody who fell in love with what they do at a very young age, and had no choice but to get good at it. There's nothing that brings her greater joy, or that she's better at, than dancing." The scenes were done "way before" the shots of record-making sessions, says Vollick. "It was one of those things that we found, in select places, acted as punctuation. There's also a little shock value--people don't expect to see a sexy girl dancing in a music documentary."

Well, it's better than constantly seeing the musicians' ugly mugs on screen. "I don't like my ugly mug to be seen," says Vollick. "I'd rather let my image be the thing that I make, rather than whatever I end up wearing when I get up in the morning."

Here Is What Is screens at Vancity Theatre Aug. 9-14.

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