Beasties misfire with fan-cam "Shot"


March 31, 2006



Several great movies could have been made about the Beastie Boys, the pioneering hip-hop act that has matured well past its days of fighting for your right to party to become one of the most consistently innovative groups in popular music.

There is, of course, a strong concert film, since the fortysomething "boys" remain a powerful live act a quarter of a century after their formation in 1981, despite the gray hairs now topping their warm-up suits.

There is an historical documentary charting the New York threesome's unlikely career, with its many twists and turns and a musical evolution that includes incarnations as hardcore punks, party-hearty rappers, genre-blurring noodlers, socially conscious hip-hop elders and finally an amalgam of all of the above.

There is also a more human documentary about the three real people behind the cartoonish public images: Adam Yauch (MCA), Adam Horovitz (Adrock) and Mike Diamond (Mike D), as well as longtime musical cohorts such as DJ Mixmaster Mike (Michael Schwartz) and Keyboard Money Mark (Mark Ramos-Nishita).

Unfortunately, "Awesome: I F----n' Shot That!" is none of those movies. What's more, upon its wide release today, I'm confident it will shoot to the top (or is that drop to the bottom?) of a short list of the worst concert movies ever made.

The problem isn't with the soundtrack. Even though this October 2004 stop on the "To the 5 Boroughs" tour bogs down with a mid-set interlude that finds the group donning promwear to play some lounge-exotica, and it doesn't perform "In a World Gone Mild," its searing protest against the war in Iraq (although it does give a sarcastic shout-out to President Bush), the show succeeds in tracing the many sides of the group's aesthetic, from its wise-ass round-robin raps to its explosive alt-rock hit "Sabotage."

The problem isn't with the visual concept, either. For a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden, the group distributed 55 Hi-8 video camcorders to fans and asked them to document the concert as they saw it from wherever they happened to be in the venue, making for what it calls "an authorized bootleg."

Always adherents of the thrifty D.I.Y. ethic, the Beastie Boys have bragged that they returned many of the camcorders for a full refund after the concert, and that they spent only $1.2 million making their movie. But they're quieter about the six additional pro camera teams they hired to shoot the show with "real" equipment, making for a total of 61 points of view for the same performance.

The multiple-perspectives idea isn't new, and it has a lot of merit when portraying a frenetic concert experience; Roger Ebert holds that the split-screen, "you're not only there, you're everywhere" passages of "Woodstock" make it one of the best concert movies ever. Yes, since these are Beastie Boys fans, you get some sophomoric detours as the amateur camera operators take us away from the stage on the occasional beer run or trip to the urinal. But at least nobody asks anybody else to show us their breasts.

I can also live with the fact that the Hi-8 video images are awfully grainy when they're blown up on the theater screen; that the hand-held cameras are often pretty shaky, to say the least, and that the contrast with the professional film is jarring and tough on the eyes. The amateurs do at least capture the energy of the evening, and if their footage had been used properly, that could have made for an inspired movie.

What really torpedoes "Awesome: I F----n' Shot That!" is the editing, which was overseen by director and producer Yauch. Working on computers, three teams of editors made three versions of the film before Yauch and Neal Usatin combined those to create one cut which they say contains 6,732 edits -- or an average of 75 images per minute.

The dizzying pace and sensory overload of all this makes MTV or Russ Meyer at their fastest seem absolutely lethargic. Combined with the inherent blurriness of the video, the amphetamine overdose of this pacing is like staring into a strobe light: At the best, it might give you a headache; at the worst, it may prompt an epileptic seizure.

Yauch takes screen credit for this dubious accomplishment under another of his pseudonyms, Nathaniel Hornblower, a name he first used when designing the packaging of 1989's "Paul's Boutique." And while noting that some festival attendees walked out, one critic who reviewed the movie's premiere at Sundance compared Yauch's approach to the psychedelic musical collages on the group's classic double album.

Nonsense. "Paul's Boutique" is a rich, multi-layered, still thoroughly mind-blowing masterpiece that has kept this fan returning to its grooves again and again for 17 years. "Awesome: I F----n' Shot That!" is a "when will this ride end?" endurance fest that made me consider walking out for fear of losing my lunch on a fellow moviegoer.

Professional that I am, I stayed through the end. But this is not a movie I'll ever watch again unless I'm held at gunpoint.