Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Everything Is Forever by Andrew P. Clunn

This review of the documentary Everything Is Forever was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Everything Is Forever
A Victor Zimet Film
Reviewed 12/2/14

Everything Is Forever is the title of Victor Zimet and Stephanie Silber's documentary about the musician Nenad Bach. It's also the title of one of Nenad's songs, which is featured in a music video on the documentary's DVD. Born in Croatia, Nenad came to the United States in the mid-eighties and gained some attention during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s with his collaboration with other musicians in calling for peace and an end to the war. He was brought into the limelight as a Croatian national to give the "big and loud Peace Concert" of the international superstars some legitimacy and authenticity. The film follows Nenad's career after this momentary spotlight fades and he returns to being a struggling artist, selling CDs in local shops and signing a deal with a record label that failed a few months later. His story is that of an immigrant artist keenly aware of the suffering and struggle of his countrymen, and accepting the difficulties of trying to make it as an artist. He travels back to Croatia and records a collection of songs from his homeland, and brings a vocal group to the United States to perform in concerts celebrating Croatian music and heritage. There's a lot of potential and the makings of an emotional story but the film falls flat for reasons having entirely to do with execution.

Pacing is the biggest downfall of Everything Is Forever in that everything takes forever to understand. We're given no context, no summary of the source or meaning of the various clips thrown together. The film lingers on mundane events and then speeds past important moments, or avoids answering questions it built up. At one point, a member of the visiting Croatian choral group collapses and has to be taken to the hospital. The film shows his fall in slow motion, and then confusion ensues. The viewer is left thinking that this is an important moment, a tragic event that will shape Nenad's...no wait...he's O.K.. So what happened? No explanation given. The film then moves on to the next plot point. Why this detail was left in at all is bewildering. Why it's given a slow motion close up in a documentary so otherwise devoid of any narration or post-production editing is completely beyond me.

There's the potential for real conflict in this story such as the financial issues and existential doubts Nenad faces. Yet the documentary's makers instead chose to focus on the band taking too long with their sound check as the main source of tension. There's a focus on insignificant details and a glossing over of questions that beg to be asked that gives the film the feeling of a collection of footage taken haphazardly and then forced into something resembling a narrative after the fact. The few bright spots are when the camera simply allows Nenad or his son to speak, giving some much needed humanity to an otherwise distant documentary. At one point the words "Seven Years Later" appear out of nowhere, and we're reintroduced to Nenad as he changes his approach to composition so that he can continue to play his own music as he struggles with Parkinson's disease. Then we go to a concert and done...movie over. Sudden, jarring, but still clearly edited to try and force some vaguely emotional narrative. Just failing miserably.

The transitions largely to feature shots of Nenad with famous musicians, actors, or world leaders, which are obviously just him as a member of a crowd getting a friendly handshake or greeting is the video equivalent of name dropping to the extreme. There's even a one-minute conversation between Nenad and Bono as a DVD extra (as if to say, "Hey, he actually did collaborate with Bono once!") I say "he"because Nenad is bluntly honest about his own lack of fame and recognition and clearly expresses his own self-doubts regarding the challenges he faces as an artist trying to reach people through his music. It really doesn't come off as Nenad Bach self-promoting but rather the filmmakers attempting to drum up his importance for the sake of the documentary. There is one moment where Nenad states he always receives so much encouragement but that he can't know how genuine it really is. After all, if his music is so good, why is he struggling so much? It's the kind of sincere introspection and fear that makes him so endearing throughout the film.

The plus side of the transitions is that they frequently feature segments of Nenad's songs, many of which are quite good. In fact, the best thing about this documentary is the soundtrack, though that shouldn't be too surprising considering the subject matter is a musician. From "I Will Follow You" playing during the DVD menu, to the concert at the end, the music is the glue that holds the otherwise off-pace and disjointed film together. Nenad's music has the feel of the late eighties and early 1990s, with acoustic guitars mixed freely with synthesizers. And his lyrics have the ring of protest songs and an immigrant's idealistic love of the American dream. They're the kind of purely idealistic and melody rich tunes that are uplifting in the sort of way that would be unbearably sappy if it weren't so genuine. Had I perhaps listened to this documentary, closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds, I might have come away with a much more positive impression. 

The jarring seven year jump forward towards the end of the film could not be salvaged in any fashion. It's as if the documentary was in need of a conclusion, so wrapping it up with Nenad's struggle with Parkinson's disease was a cheap out. Then again, if the goal of the film was to humanize Nenad Bach and allow him to reach a wider audience, then it was a smart decision, even if crass. It simultaneously promotes Nenad while making me feel as though he's being exploited. Is it a good documentary if it makes us care about the subject, even if partially because of how blatantly the film attempts to see him as a means to an end? No, it isn't. But it did introduce me to a genuinely interesting artist, and for that I am grateful.

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