If “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” concentrated on the intricate build-up to staging a concert, and “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” put the viewer in the best possible seat, “Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That!” is the cracked plastic beer cup kicked around the arena floor for 90 minutes.
The idea is a bit insane: the Beastie Boys (Adam Horowitz, Michael Diamond, and Adam Yauch) decided to give 50 concertgoers Hi8 cameras to document their October, 2004 homecoming show in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden. The result is a free-flowing, hyper-edited pastiche of sight and sound, real and unreal, and the occasional bathroom break. It’s a lot of things, but it stays true to the title: it is awesome.
What the 50 cameras bring to the experience is a magical feeling of being inside the arena during the performance. The amateur cinematographers are stationed everywhere from the main floor to the nose bleed section, and they all share the desire to put their unique stamp on the film. Some elect to shoot themselves drunkenly singing along with the songs, a couple cameras catch Ben Stiller rocking out with his wife (with a refreshing lack of inhibition), one guy films himself taking a pee break, two crafty fellows find a way to sneak backstage, but most try to train their low-tech lenses at the Beasties on stage. The saddest of them all is the poor fellow in the far upper deck who spends the whole evening trying to get his section excited about being at the concert. I don’t think he ever found success there.
The shooters were given limited technology, leaving director Nathaniel Hornblower (Adam Yauch’s pseudonym) and his team of editors free range to take the footage and turn it inside out. Using every digital visual trick in the book, “Awesome” isn’t a plain old concert film, but an acid trip voyage, embellishing the Beastie tracks and turning the whole evening into a mammoth party. Taking an entire year just to edit the film, “Awesome” is howling blizzard of cuts, and now I feel bad for taking Michael Bay to task all these years for ruining cinema in the very same way; however, in “Awesome,” the cuts ride the beats like demented jockeys, with the presentation stunning the viewer into a ridiculously giddy sugar high. This is an optic sledgehammer of a film, but every whack has Hornblower going deeper into visual creativity, and the results are hilarious, tripping, and shake-yer-booty inspiring.
It goes without saying that the musical portion of the film cannot be beat. After 20 years of continuously inventive and rollicking music, the Beasties have a wealth of hits to pick from, and they choose well. Watch in amazement as the group guides a sing along for “Paul Revere,” pummels the crowd with a throbbing “So Watch’cha Want,” and burns through their newest hit, “Ch-Check It Out.” Midway through the evening, the Boys dress up in retro prom tuxedos and throw down some slow jams on their instruments, but the energy of the film is quickly propped back up, and by the finale, in which the Beasties jump into the crowd for an electric run-through of “Intergalactic,” the arena feels about ready to pop. As always, the Boys are backed by their resident turntable genius, Mix Master Mike, and they bring along Doug E. Fresh to provide a little hometown surprise.
While it doesn’t have a churchgoing title, “Awesome” is one of the best times to be had in a theater this spring. It’s funny that the two best films of the year so far have been concert films, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take delirious screen energy and confident filmmaking any way I can get it.Rating: A