Ch-Ch-Check It Out

The Beasties’ live music makes for Awesome pandemonium.

Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! Cedar Lee Theatre
The whole audience ends up co-starring when the Beastie Boys pass out cameras and jack up the amps.
The whole audience ends up co-starring when the Beastie Boys pass out cameras and jack up the amps.
So far, the Beastie Boys' concert film Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! has screened in only a handful of places: at the Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals and, last week, at multiplexes across the country during one-time-only whoop-dee-doo screenings in conjunction with Big Screen Concerts. The latter is a relatively new effort to turn screening rooms into concert halls, a quaint throwback to the long-ago days when AC/DC's Let There Be Rock toured theaters and made it possible for us wee lads to attend a mock-rock show.

But the Beasties' offering doesn't attempt to replace the concertgoing experience, any more than a strobe light makes a good replacement for a flashlight when the power goes out. It's a spastic mess shot by 50 Beasties fans at the band's Madison Square Garden show October 9, 2004, and edited by Adam "MCA" Yauch -- who, rather surprisingly, didn't go blind or crazy during the process. After you see it in a theater, the outside world will seem surprisingly slowed-down, almost static; it took a good five minutes before I was even able to drive home in a straight line, so chaotic and fleeting are the images in a movie made by amateurs and assembled by an auteur with the attention span of a 1-year-old. If Yauch and Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad Rock" Horowitz, his longtime partners in rhyme, don't exactly reinvent the medium, they show a remarkable lack of respect for it; Jonathan Demme would not approve.

There's no getting around the obvious: There's something wholly distancing and distracting about Awesome, in which no shot lasts more than a couple of seconds and most clock in at the blink of an eye. You're never quite allowed into the movie or onto the stage or even into the audience, the point of most concert movies. You're constantly reminded that this is an experiment and an experience -- something both artsy and fartsy, as Sarah Silverman might say. Hence, not only do you get some 90 minutes of concert footage and the more-than-occasional woo-hoo audience cutaway, but also the first-person shot of a guy schlepping into the men's room to take a piss.

Awesome, which was originally intended as a home-video release and is receiving only a limited theatrical run, is just the opposite of Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold, which is currently singing an audience to sleep at the Cedar Lee Theatre. Demme has no interest in the audience at all; the crowd isn't even shown, except by accident. But the Beasties -- whose set list relies mostly on material from its most recent release, To the 5 Boroughs, to the delight of the hometown crowd -- seem to enjoy pushing the limits. So much of the movie's got that digital blur to it; it's pixilated from almost start to finish. The point is to disorient and delight, to discombobulate and dazzle -- to manufacture a high for those who forgot to bring their stash to the theater.

The best part of the film comes at its midway point, when it takes a breather for some extended jazz-funk workouts from Ill Communication and Check Your Head. Decked out in baby-blue bar mitzvah tuxes circa '72, the Boys grab some instruments and an honest-to-God band (including Money Mark behind the keyboards, bless his buoyancy) and ride a groove till they wash up on the Jersey shore.

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