Two years after the release of ARCADE FIRE’s epic double album Reflektor, the Canadian indie rock band returns with The Reflektor Tapes, that is 75 minutes of cinematic material providing an insight into their stay in Jamaica and Haiti, the recording of Reflektor as well as playing live. Director Khalil Joseph manages to deliver a movie that can best be described as an audio-visual spectacle that turns out to be quite different from ordinary band or recording documentaries. In fact, The Reflektor Tapes challenges its audience just like the record itself does on a first listening. It is also tempting to say that, at times, especially in the beginning of the movie, the loose combination of pictures, film material, and signs remind us of the enigmatic and tedious promotional phase prior to the release of Reflektor. However, it is not strange to say or even unexpected that – when the end credits start – it all comes to make sense.
Khalil Joseph does not appear as a mute observer of what was going on around the creation and presentation of what you can regard as ARCADE FIRE’s most ambitious work to date. He actively participates and therefore created a piece of art that perfectly fits the concept of The Reflector. Right from the start it is clear to see that Joseph does not want to tell a coherent story about the band or the creation of their fourth album. He does not follow a structured or even narrative concept of filming. It is more like his work translates ARCADE FIRE’s ideas and music into 75 minutes of film. In order to do so, the award winning director merges extracts from interview sequences (although we do not get to see the band, we hear them) with film material from Haiti and Jamaica as well as several live performances including the band’s spontaneous live appearance on the first day of carnival in Haiti. As a result, the audience gets informed about certain influences of the bands (e.g. Kierkegaard), familial backgrounds of Régine Chassagne as well as ARCADE FIRE’s reception of themselves as a band.
One of the most impressive things about The Reflektor Tapes is the film material shot in Jamaica and Haiti. You can almost feel how the band got inspired by Jamaican and Haitian life, music, and rhythm in order to create something new. ‘I am obsessed with rhythm’, says Chassagne, ‘I tried to combine the Haitian rhythm with new wave’. Equally interesting is Joseph’s combination of sound and pictures. In one scene, we see Win Butler holding his microphone towards the audience but we do now hear them. In another sequence, Butler’s singing changes almost fluently between a recorded version and his live voice while we get to see impressions of Haitian street life, the carnival, Reflektor concerts as well as outtakes from studio sessions. This all reminds us more of a creative art collage than a proper film.
With The Reflektor Tapes Joseph successfully adds another chapter to ARCADE FIRE’s extraordinary exploration of new rhythms and sounds. His images are full of life. It is especially the scenes shot in Haiti and Jamaica that turn out to be the most powerful. ARCADE FIRE translated this power into music just like Joseph translated ARCADE FIRE’s music into film. Both works are pretty physical. You feel the energy of it all. You almost feel the need to participate. Yes, it all makes sense. Thank God we did not get another bloodless tell-tale documentary.
‘The Reflector Tapes’ is out now in selected cinemas around the world for a limited time only.