Radiohead, Jane’s Addiction, Beck, The Crystal Method, and other musicians star in this documentary directed by Drew Thomas. It screens next Friday, April 21, as part of the Magic Lantern Film series at Isla Vista Theater at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg
“You can’t trust radio or television because it’s all about commerce and there’s tricks being played everywhere … There’s faith in live events,” explained Perry Farrell, DJ and Jane’s Addiction frontman, in Coachella, a documentary that comes across a bit like a long commercial for its namesake two-day SoCal music festival (which is understandable, considering the festival’s promoters produced it). But if you’re a music fan, that probably won’t bother you. At its core, this movie is a beautifully photographed, well-edited love letter to the annual event in Indio that will have you planning to buy your tickets for this year’s late April dates before the film’s even over (a fact that distributors can’t have overlooked when deciding on release dates).
More a scrapbook than a story, Coachella takes a look at the festival’s musical and artistic history, all framed in the loose structure of the festival itself — starting with shots of revelers arriving in their cars and ending with post-festival photos of empty water bottles littering the grass like a thousand moon-lit islands in a deep green sea. And though there’s no real narrative to push the story along, the footage of musicians playing (from Radiohead to The Crystal Method), interspersed with interviews about what makes the festival so unique (including conversations with Perry Farrell, Flea, and Beck), are interesting enough to keep you engaged.
Highlights include a middle-aged but still mesmerizing Morrissey singing “November’s Child” and, quite endearingly, giving a fan who’d climbed onto the stage a warm hug before a bodyguard carried her away; Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips crowd surfing in a giant plastic bubble; the four remarkably normal-seeming members of the Pixies; an intimate guitar duet between members of Red Hot Chili Peppers; and the enigmatic Bjork in yet another wearable-art gown.
Best of all, though, the film does a remarkable job of capturing the spirit of the 10-year-old event. From the giant destructive robots and wall of polka-dots to sweaty revelers resting in the shade of a giant metal spider, the film captures visual landmarks that will seem familiar to veterans, while also giving newcomers an authentic idea of what Coachella is about. And thankfully, the film hits just the right tone: It’s appreciative of the festival, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it both reverent and light-hearted.