Scott Walker is the epitome of the iconoclastic and somewhat reclusive singer-songwriter. Amid the crush of 1960s pop music heartthrobs, his career began with the Walker Brothers. Finding that he did not care much for money or popularity, he embarked on a solo career. His series of four SCOTT albums included haunting songs, Jacques Brel and his own brilliantly disturbing compositions like Plastic Palace People. In the past 25 years he has produced three albums of seriously avant-garde ballads that thrill some and bewilder others, and led a quiet, modest life out of public view.
Devoted fans have been hungering for a documentary like Stephen Kijak’s Scott Walker: 30 Century Man to set the record straight on all the ins and outs and contradictions swirling around Scott Walker. The film tries every which way to explain the man, his music, its influence and his career decisions. It includes archival footage, TV appearances, music excerpts, interviews with Walker and other musicians, newly commissioned animations and a husky-voiced narrator to keep the whole thing on track. Some of it is brilliantly evocative and some less so.
A roster of three dozen or so music stars including David Bowie, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Brian Eno, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Thom Yorke, Marc Almond, Alison Goldfrapp and Sting comment on their favourite tracks. As much as Walker inspires them, their comments often fall flat. Very little can approach the strangely affecting genius in the music itself.
Chosen by Walker himself, Graham Wood, formerly of design collective Tomato, used his techno era graphics to visualize Walker’s latest music. The videos are astonishingly successful when incorporating text. Seeing the lyrics heightens their poetry. (Watch Graham’s video for “Jesse” (Drift 2006) on YouTube.) The most thrilling moments are created by the music itself. Kijak has chosen some of the most heart-rending passages from Walker’s 45-year output. The greatest revelations come from Walker himself. This uncompromising genius is refreshingly modest and honest as he demystifies his life, career and music. Seeing Walker at work in the studio on Drift proves that everything on his highly strained and nuanced recordings can be contributed to his strong artistic vision. Walker supervises the exact construction of a plywood box on which to slap a cement block, insists on a specific rhythmic style to the punches thrown into a side of pork and works a string section to its breaking point. And when Walker gets what he wants, no one is more delighted than he.
Scott Walker is not for the casual listener, and this arduous documentary is not necessarily for the casual viewer. Where it works best, it is just as dark and intense as the music itself. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man is a tribute to Walker’s singular talent that will win him some new fans and fill in some gaps for the old ones. (Linda Feesey)
Dir. Stephen Kijak