by Hannah Risser-Sperry
The new film Andrew Bird: Here's What Happened has been released in conjunction with Bird’s new album Break It Yourself, which was released this past Tuesday. The album is beautiful; typical Bird soundscapes featuring his unmistakable whistle and wonder-inducing lyrics. The film is equally lovely.
In its mere 33 minutes, the film showcases seven songs. It starts with a shot of birds (ha!) sitting on a telephone line, soundtracked by a long instrumental lead-in to Danse Caribe, a lovely song I first heard in October at a solo performance in Skowhegan, Maine. It’s a gorgeous song with dreamy lyrics about “mistaking clouds for mountains,” and it sounds better fleshed out with the full band. The song has Bird not just singing into the mic and plucking his violin, but gesturing emotionally as if he is on stage performing rather than in his old farm house.
The transition from Danse Caribe to Orpheo Looks Back has the cutest moment of the film: a cat is silhouetted by the sun outside, clinging to the screen door as Bird and the band record. As the band starts in on Orpheo, we see a clip of the kitten exploring outside before being returned to the story of the album.
Orpheo Looks Back goes into Lazy Projectors, the most upbeat sounding breakup song I’ve heard in awhile. From there we hear Eyeoneye, the rockiest of all the songs. It features the titular line “break it yourself,” and definitely picks the film up a bit. Between Eyeoneye and the next song, Lusitania, there are a few shots of the band doing something other than recording - a couple of them sing a little ditty on the stairs, they eat lunch, they spend some time at a picnic table chatting - but even that is short lived. Again, the focus of the film is on the music, not the people making it.
The film closes with a group vocal for Goin’ Home, a Charlie Patton blues song, which leads into Fatal Shore, a 5 minute song that ends in a long and slow violin solo. Nothing heralds the end of the film, it merely focuses on the vocal mic before cutting to black. A simple film with a simple purpose.
What struck me about this movie is how different it is from most “making of” documentaries. There are no lengthy interviews, no pranks or joking banter. It is only about the creation of an album, and quite an intimate one at that. The camera is trained on Bird for long shots, showing his hands at work on his violin or his lips pursed for a whistle.
The band is recording live, all at once in one large room. I watched with my boyfriend, a recording engineer, and his focus was far different than mine. While I focused on the beautiful light in the room, on the farm buildings and greenery of the outdoor shots, he took note of the mics they were using, the instruments, and the mixing board. All passed his test, for what it’s worth.
As I said, a simple film with a simple purpose. It is a lovely glimpse into four nice looking mid-Western white guys who have gone without razors for a few days (is anything else allowed in indie rock?) making truly lovely music. Plus, Andrew Bird makes my little heterosexual heart go pitter patter. Wouldn’t you know it, he’s wearing a ring on that dreaded left hand! Alas, all my plans, foiled. The film is available for free rental on iTunes until March 20th, and has a few upcoming showings on the music channel Palladia.