Yes Meets The Sex Pistols

by Tim Dodd on July 14, 2005

in Uncategorized

Rock and Roll! Drugs! Furry Animal Costumes! Ladies and gentlemen, The Flaming Lips!

The Flaming Lips SMASH!

One of current rock’s most creative forces, The Flaming Lips, have had a rather unusual success story. Hailing from Oklahoma City in the early 80’s, they created a noisy and anarchic brand of psychedelic punk rock that found a cult audience of true freaks but bewildered most. As time went on the band somehow secured a major record label contract in the early 90’s, had a novelty alternative hit with a song called “She Don’t Use Jelly”, and was poised to be the next one-hit-wonder band of the mid 90’s to never be heard from again.
Then, a curious thing happened. They came out with two stellar albums in a row, 1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which gave them both critical raves and commercial success. A newly released documentary DVD, The Fearless Freaks, takes a look inside the band members’ personal lives while giving a slight history of how they got to be where they are today.

In The Fearless Freaks, filmmaker Bradley Beesley tries to give us two things: a history of the band and an intimate look at what makes them tick. The history is very disorganized and doesn’t give the viewer a very good idea of how the band progressed from scrappy, noisy punks to adventurous purveyors of orchestrated pop. None of the band’s five albums before their breakthrough Transmissions from the Satellite Heart are really discussed and there are few insights given into how they actually create any of their music.

While Freaks fails on the historical front, it wholly succeeds in providing a very personal document of the band’s origins, home lives, families, and even some of their troubles. The bulk of the movie is made up of current interviews with singer/guitarist Wayne Coyne and drummer/keyboardist/guitarist/all-around musical whiz Steven Drozd. Wayne’s childhood is discussed extensively, with a good portion of the film’s running time devoted to interviews with his family members (one of which was the band’s original singer). While watching these scenes it quickly becomes apparent that growing up in a culturally isolated place like Oklahoma City in the 70’s created the foundation of the band’s weirdness. The gang mentality that Wayne and his siblings had combined with the strange white-trash nature of the people involved make Oklahoma in the 70’s almost seem like a different planet (and this is coming from someone who grew up in Oklahoma about three hours away from the Coyne’s). All of this actually makes the band seem more mythical and strange.

A real turning point in the band came in 1991 with the addition of Steven Drozd. His musicality and ability to play multiple instruments gave the band a sharper focus and eventually steered them towards the kind of music they are making today. Of course, being a talented artist has its price, and Steven’s problems with substance abuse nearly ended the band on a few occasions. This is discussed with such openness that parts of the last third of the movie are a bit shocking, but it makes for very compelling viewing.

The two-disc set is packaged in a clear case with very cool artwork on both the outside and interior, as well as a booklet containing embarrassing pictures of the band members in their youth. Disc one contains the 110-minute feature film with commentary by the director and the band. The second disc contains about 90 minutes of special features including 7 minutes of deleted scenes, 30 minutes of outtakes (the difference between deleted scenes and outtakes isn’t entirely clear), 30 minutes of live footage, and a 20-minute picture “slide show”.
There really isn’t anything very special in the deleted scenes, but the outtakes portion contains a few amusing, if not essential items that didn’t make it to the final film. Besides a rather disturbing “interview” with a man they call “shopping cart guy”, there is the full version of Wayne’s story about being held up at Long John Silver’s. Also, some backstage scenes for their appearance on Austin City Limits and a montage of clips from the recording sessions of Clouds Taste Metallic may be of interest to fans.
If you’re looking for some great recent footage of the band playing live in the “live clips” section, you may be quite disappointed. The clips consist of non-professionally filmed footage of lesser-known songs with very lo-fi bootleggy sound quality. One clip from 1988 even seems to be from an old video tape that you used to be able to get that is so lo-fi in image and sound (and smoke) that I’ve never been able to get through the whole thing. It’s nice to have this footage for historical purposes, but most people won’t want to watch it more than once.
It’s seems like Bradley Beesley couldn’t figure out what kind of movie he wanted to make about the Flaming Lips. As far as being a definitive documentary on the band, it leaves a bit to be desired. It’s more of a movie on the people that make the music rather than how the music is actually made. However, the Fearless Freaks has done for me what any good movie about a band should do: it’s made me want to go back and listen to all of their albums. So whether you’re new to the band or a long time fan, there is a lot of interesting and entertaining footage to be found in the movie. It’s not the final word on The Flaming Lips, but as a document of where the band is now, it will do just fine.

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