Daft Punk Turn Down The Volume

andybetablog | October 10, 2008 12:00 pm

Ed. note: It’s time for another installment of “VHS Or Beta?”, where Andy Beta looks at the music behind the movies–from preserved-by-Criterion classics to completely inane summer blockbusters. In this installment, he looks at the recent film by the Frenchmen Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, Daft Punk’s Electroma:

My roommate loves him some Daft Punk, to the exclusion of the rest of the canon of western music. He might branch out to such fare as Cut Copy, Hot Chip, and “Love Lockdown”; one time, he borrowed my copy of Discovered: A Collection of Daft Funk Samples to head-scratching results. But beyond that, it’s solely the work of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo that gets him going.

So you might presume that he would automatically be a fan of the French duo’s most recent artistic endeavor, a full-length film entitled Daft Punk’s Electroma. And yet, he’s avoided it so far. He is not alone. Take this testimonial from the IMDB message board about the 71-minute film that premiered to fleeing audiences at midnight movies across the country: “Daft Punk is one of my favorite bands of all time. I love the mood, texture, feel and dance-ability of their music. I love their costumes, live shows, and their (robotic lack of?) personality. But I did not like this movie.”

The film was written and directed by Bangalter and De Homem-Christo (with Bangalter handling cinematographic duties), though with Peter Hurteau and Michael Reich playing the DP roles, clad in Hedi Slimane Dior Homme leather– the Discovery-era helmets of silver and gold still firmly affixed. How could Daft Punk fans detest such fare? It’s easy: hushed, patient, stilled, naturalistic, sparing in releasing its pleasures, Daft Punk’s Electroma is the absolute antithesis of Daft Punk’s music.

Which is no doubt how the duo likes it. In the latest issue of Stop Smiling (full disclosure: my essay on Breathless actress Jean Seberg also appears in this issue), Daft Punk discuss the film, and when interviewer Matt Diehl confesses to hating the movie the first time through, Guy-Manuel responds: “Cool, I’m happy you didn’t like it the first time. You’re not the only one.” Indeed. In much the same way that viral video footage of Daft Punk’s Coachella performance (and subsequent US tour) exponentially spread the gospel, fans have taken to YouTube again to “remix” Electroma to their liking.

For this YouTube viewer, the movie is too long at 1 hour 11 minutes (?!) and since its soundtrack features decidedly “non-banger” fare from the likes of Brian Eno, folkies Linda Perhacs and Jackson C. Frank, Franz Joseph Hayden, and Fryderyk Chopin, Daft Punk’s music is plopped on top. Which wholly misses the point.

On previous albums, the group melded disparate influences like DJ Sneak, the Beach Boys, Supertramp, Li’l Louis, and Dr. Dre; Electroma performs a similar feat but with their favorite directors. Traces of Godardian jump cuts, Antonionian alien landscapes, THX-1138‘s dystopia, Phantom of the Paradise‘s leather gear, and David Lynch’s bent Americana all factor into the story. And rather than create their own soundtrack, the two draw on their extensive record collection (though other viewers have attempted to synch up Human After All to the movie, a la Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, to mixed results). The ominous sinewaves at the film’s opening soon reveal themselves as the opening to Todd Rundgren’s acid-king pop opera A Wizard, a True Star.

After a few passes through the film, Electroma emerges as the story of two disconnected teenage friends unable to fit into a Twilight Zone-esque society of similarly masked robots. (The town sorta reminds me of my own youth, wherein I had helmeted astronauts from my space Lego set walk through my Lego town set.) The two friends, trapped in the despair that only such a small town can impart, rebel and become human. Such attempts at escape and being different only turn the town of silver and gold chrome-domes against them, so that the two friends flee as outcasts, abandoned to wander the scrublands of California until they come to realize the only real way to escape this life is through self-destruction and self-immolation.

Or are they wandering through the desert? After numerous slow shots of sand and people-less landscapes, lost acid-folk chanteuse Linda Perhac’s exquisite song of longing, “If You Were My Man,” comes on. Curvaceous mounds and dunes rise and fall as everything merges with the night. But I’ll be damned if those two long, smooth ridges don’t look like freshly shaved legs. And those two mounds higher up look awfully familiar. That scraggly bush seems strategically placed as well.

See for yourself at 3:05:

An art house film that climaxes with a shot that would make Gustave Courbet proud? How could Daft Punk fans not go for a beaver shot?