Based on Lizzy Goodman’s book Meet Me in the Bathroom, directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace (who also directed the LCD Soundsystem film, Shut Up and Play the Hits, which, like this, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival) take a different approach to the material in their new documentary. There are no talking heads explaining what it all meant or what it’s supposed to mean today. Instead, Southern and Lovelace tracked down a plethora of unseen footage of these New York City bands (which include The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol) from the late ’90s and early 2000s to create a pure visual experience. The filmmakers here want the viewer to be immersed in the experience.
And as they say ahead, it’s not just an interesting time musically – one that probably won’t happen again, at least like this – but it’s an interesting time for fan recordings. It’s from an era where cameras that can shoot video are affordable, so people have them, but not everyone has them. And then the fact YouTube didn’t exist yet, so the footage wasn’t immediately uploaded. Which means the stuff we see in this film has been sitting in a lot of drawers for the past 20 or so years.
You’ve called this an experimental film, that you wanted it to just immerse people in that era, which it does. Was that always the intent from the beginning?
Dylan Southern: I mean, we always wanted it to be an experience, and we knew that nothing would take you out of the time more than cutting to a kind of a talking head of some of these live young rock stars that we’re seeing in their twenties. We didn’t want to be that behind the music, retrospective looking back thing. So, we always knew we wanted to make it immersive and to drop the audience into the time period and try it as much as possible not to break the spell as that. We didn’t know at the start that it was going to be a 100 percent archive, because we didn’t think we could afford to make it a 100 percent archive. But when COVID hit, it gave us leeway to kind of push harder on that route because we had more time on our hands.
Did you always know you’d have enough interesting footage?
Dylan Southern: We still don’t know.
Well, I would say you found enough interesting footage.
Will Lovelace: Well, it’s an interesting time. It’s not like now, making a film about now in 20 years will be a nightmare because everyone films on the thing, and takes thousands of photographs. But we were kind of confident that there would be enough of a document of that time because we were doing something similar in the UK filming smaller bands. No one as famous as these bands, but people were doing that.
Dylan Southern: We suspected we would find what we needed. It was just whether we could get our hands on it was the big question though.
Will Lovelace: And so in one sense, it’s great. Because people just hadn’t uploaded all of this stuff. If this film had been set into the late two-thousands, everyone would’ve uploaded everything to YouTube as it happened. So nothing would be unseen.
Was there any push by back at all from any of the bands you feature?
Dylan Southern: I’d say there were different degrees of collaboration based on relationships that we already had with people. They’d all done the book as well. So, there was a bit of persuasion in like, “This isn’t just going to be you rehearsing stuff that you said for the book.” So, another part of the process was the sort of diplomacy aspect of getting the buy-in from everybody, which was also fun and interesting process.
Even without talking heads, the footage you have forms a narrative and Ryan Adams doesn’t come off great in this. He’s kind of an antagonist to The Strokes, and the MTV stuff is really bizarre and the confrontation they have about drug use … I’m assuming he probably wasn’t helpful…
Dylan Southern: No, he wasn’t. Particularly. He didn’t want to be. But yeah, it was an interesting one because it felt like that particular story, that was the sort of most headline-grabbing narrative in the book. At the time when the book came out in 2017, it felt like, to not go there, would be as noticeable as going there. It felt like it was part of the story. So, yeah.
James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem have a big part in this. Did that worry you at all that you already you’ve done a full movie on them?
Dylan Southern: It was an interesting one because one aspect of the film is the way things change over time, and at the tail end of the film, things are happening, the technology’s starting to proliferate, and it is when James writes “Losing My Edge.” We don’t bring them in until past the halfway mark in the film, because we wanted to establish that they’re not the same scene. His transformation is quite fascinating as well. The fact that he’s so much older than everyone else and he’s floundering a little bit, but for us, each strand in the story is a coming-of-age story. We didn’t want to just retell the story in the book. We wanted to take the essence of the book and make a 90, a 100-minute film, and for us they’re all origin stories.
Are the legacies of these bands maybe more this era than the bands themselves at this point? Especially since rock music has a hard time breaking through today?
Dylan Southern: But I think it’s the tail end, isn’t it? Like a conversation, we kept having is, could this happen again now? Now that people consume music the way they do? Now that people make music the way they do? Now people are so polarized? Is there a counterculture anymore? Is there a perfect storm in which a musical scene can emerge because of a time and place? We still hope the answer is yes. But there’s also a slight worry that the answer is no.
Will Lovelace: I do think it was a perfect storm. They weren’t all living in each other’s pockets necessarily, but they were all in the same city, and that’s the big thing. It’s New York City at that moment in time, as the internet is starting, as cell phones are starting. It’s a very different world, and I do think that’s why it happened then, rather than 10 years later or 20 years later.
Dylan Southern: Also, there’s a sort of synchronicity between Lizzy’s afterwards in the book. She has that line where she says, “We were all chasing New York and for a few magical years, we caught it. I think, there’s that nature of it that, which is universal, and about having this moment in your youth that nobody else could have had. But then there’s also something about the time in that, it probably was the end of a more innocent period. Just as the internet was starting to emerge as something that everybody uses and the kind of utopian ideas about what the internet might do and, now flash forward 20 years later, and we’re in a dystopia. That time has this weird innocence that, if you lived through it, we’re all starting to hanker for it a bit. And I hope kids who didn’t live through that, see it, and there’s a little sense of something missing. And maybe someone picks up a guitar or a sampling machine or something.
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