KILL YOUR IDOLSNR
One-man-band S.A. Crary seemed to want to do it all himself when making Kill Your Idols, directing, writing, shooting and editing the whole 71-minute documentary by himself. Although an inspiration for workaholic multitasking filmmakers, Crary could very well have used a second opinion when putting the film together, as his primary thesis-that there is a clear link between pioneering anti-music bands like DNA and latter-day scenesters like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs-so clearly doesn't gel.
Like so many of the recent wave of alternative-music documentaries like Punk! Attitude, End of the Century and the upcoming American Hardcore, Kill Your Idols starts in the glitter- and fun-obsessed music world of the 1970s. Instead of tracking punk outfits like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, however, Crary focuses on their even more anti-social relatives. Setting it all against the backdrop of the apocalyptic, crumbling, decaying metropolis that was New York in the 1970s and '80s, Crary tracks the rise of bands like Suicide and DNA, who were as uninterested in punk as they were in the bloated arena rock that punk was reacting to. As one interviewee after another notes, for all their attitudinal differences, punk bands were still mired in conservative three-chord song structures. What these disaffected art-punks wanted was something that stripped away preconceived notions of music and comfort, using what one calls "a caveman approach to art" and another describes as "short, aggressive bursts of anti-music."
A mix of static feedback, atonal dissonance, shrieked or mumbled non-lyrics, and a bruisingly violent and confrontational stage presence, the music produced by bands in what would later be called the "No Wave" movement was purposely ugly and monstrous, with no attempt to pay homage to any influences, but rather interested solely in sonically assaulting the audience. No Wave leading lights like downtown legend Lydia Lunch and Swans frontman Michael Gira talk about making their music practically as a form of therapy, something to keep them from wanting to rip their heads off and run screaming down the street. There was no money, no fame and little regard. Practically the only band to emerge from the scene with any sort of popular acclaim was Sonic Youth, whose Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are interviewed at length.
Just when Crary's film is getting into the height (such as it was, limited to a tiny number of appreciators in downtown Manhattan) of No Wave in 1982, settling into a nice rhythm, divided into loosely organized segments titled "Amnesia" and "Orphans," it leaps forward to 2002 and starts interviewing self-satisfied hipster Brooklyn bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and A.R.E. Weapons. The theme here seems to be that these groups, who at the time were part of a burgeoning scene being hungrily circled by music-industry scouts, are the inheritors of No Wave's arrhythmic mantle. Music aficionados in the audience may argue the point musically, but it's hard to see what connection there is between these mostly ironic and calculating cool kids and the desperate, poverty-stricken, borderline psychopaths that made up No Wave. Crary seems to acknowledge this disconnect, giving voice to Lydia Lunch as she denounces the new wave of scenesters for being bored suburbanites who just want to sell records, but he never gets a real rejoinder from the younger generation, making it unclear what his true purpose is here.
For sheer archival shock value and as a portrait of artists on the edge of self-annihilation, Kill Your Idols has plenty to recommend it in its first third, but the remainder feels plodding and dated (a lot of it seems to have been filmed in 2002), burying its point in a muddle of poorly edited and tiring interviews.