Sunday, April 16, 2017

SONGS OF REVOLUTION (2017, Bill Mousoulis, Greece, A+30)

SONGS OF REVOLUTION (2017, Bill Mousoulis, Greece, A+30)

1.This film is really an ear-opening for me, and I guess most viewers outside Greece may feel the same way, too. The film tackles a subject which I have never heard of—revolutionary songs in Greece, which come in various styles—punk, rock, hip hop, blues, experimental, old styles, etc. So the first thing I like about this film is because of its subject matter. It talks about things I have no knowledge about, or things I have never seen portrayed in films before. Actually I have never seen a film which deals mainly with revolutionary songs in any countries, and I also have never seen a film about music in Greece.

As for the films I have seen until now, I think the subject of “revolutionary songs” is talked about only as a small detail in some documentaries. For example, the film 40 YEARS OF SILENCE: AN INDONESIAN TRAGEDY (2009, Robert Lemelson) talks a little bit about the song GENJER GENJER, which was associated with communists in Indonesia before the massacre in 1965. The documentary ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVE (2016, Lau Kek-huat, Malaysia) also portrays some Malaysian communists singing songs from the past.

So I like it very much that Bill Mousoulis chooses this subject for his film. It is great that the lyrics of these Greek songs are translated into English in this film, so that people all over the world can understand the power of these lyrics, and may be inspired by them, too.

2.Apart from the subject matter, I also like the form or the style of the film very much. I think it is part-documentary, part-neorealist musical. I use the word “neorealist”, because most of the musical scenes in this film portray an actor or an actress walking down some streets. The locations or the situtations in Greece are portrayed as they really are. There is no attempt to make the locations more colorful, vibrant, or beautiful than what they are. The songs in this film also talk about some subject matters which correspond to neorealist films, especially the economic problems.

I think the form of this film is unique, or something I have never seen before. Combining documentary parts with musical parts in the same film is something rare already, but this film also combines neorealist style with the musical parts, too.

3.Because the form of this film is unique, I can’t find any films that I can compare with this film easily. This film is like a rare combination of various elements from many films I have seen. For example:

3.1 The dance/music films of Carlos Saura, such as FLAMENCO (1995), IBERIA (2005), and FADOS (2007), because in some parts of SONGS OF REVOLUTION, especially the parts portraying Thodoris Arianoutsos and Marianthi Koliaki, we see some musical scenes continuously, without knowing any information about the artists who made the songs. We only enjoy the songs in these scenes. We are fully immersed in the feelings of the songs. It’s like we are floating in some fictional worlds created by the songs, and not weighed down by the information about the artists, or not pulled back to the world of reality by the documentary parts. (It’s hard to describe the feelings in these scenes. These scenes in SONGS OF REVOLUTION are tied to “reality” via the real locations, but not via information.) This kind of feelings—fully immersed in the world of music—is like the feelings I have when I saw those three films of Carlos Saura.

3.2 However, there are also some documentary parts in this film. And I think these documentary parts remind me of such films as NEAPOLITAN HEART (2002, Paolo Santoni), SOUND OF BRAZIL (2002, Mika Kaurismaki), and Y/OUR MUSIC (2014, Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every, David Reeve). These are the kind of films which give us information about music from some specific places, too. These documentaries are interesting because of their subject matters. We learn a lot about the music in Naples, Thailand, and Brazil from these films. But these documentaries somehow lack the “interesting styles” or lack “the floating feelings”, which are found in SONGS OF REVOLUTION and Carlos Saura’s films.

So in conclusion, I think SONGS OF REVOLUTION combine the best parts of these two groups of films together. SONGS OF REVOLUTION has both the floating feelings in musical parts, and the interesting information in the documentary parts.

4.I also like the use of news footage and old photographs in this film. It gives this film the political dimension, without weiging the film down too much. I mean if this film chooses to be “an ordinary documentary”, the film would have given us directly specific information about the political contexts and the history of Greece. But if the film chooses to be that way, the viewers will be flooded with information, and somehow “the floating feelings” from music will be greatly diminished or destroyed. So I think the use of old photographs, news footage, and real locations in this film is the appropriate way to give the film “political dimension”, without weighing the film down too much.

5.I like the use of real locations in this film very much. At first I wondered why the film doesn’t give us a few full-blown music videos, instead of neorealist musical scenes.  I wondered why the film doesn’t give us colorful scenes such as in Carlos Saura’s films. But when I paid attention to the lyrics, then I found that this neorealist style is really appropriate for this kind of lyrics.

In a way, seeing characters walking up and down the real streets in this film is a little bit like watching people in real streets in FROM THE EAST (1993, Chantal Akerman). It’s hard to describe the feelings watching these two films. It’s like half-floating half-down to earth, half-surreal half-real, half-body half-soul, half-physical half-spiritual—to see people in the real streets in SONGS OF REVOLUTION and FROM THE EAST.

6.As for the musical parts, the scene that I like the most is the scene for the song  I WAS BORN AT ONE MOMENT. I think the actor in this scene can convey the sadness via his eyes very powerfully. Just look at the sadness in his eyes, you can imagine easily how hard his life would have been, how much he have struggled in his life, how many times he has been defeated and disappointed.

7.As for the documentary parts, the scene that I like the most is the scene in which some people talk about how revolutionary songs influenced their lives. I mean the scene in which a woman talked about the song HONORABLE MAN, MR. PANTELIS, and a man talked about the band REBELS. This scene made me think about how some songs influenced my life, too.

I also like the scene in which Antouan Parinis and friends sang ALL THOSE THAT HAVE A LOT OF MONEY for a garbageman. This scene is a curious blend between documentary and musical.

8.I also like how the film portrays some “preaching” scenes without making me feeling bad about being forced to listen to it. I mean the scene about the Underground Manifesto, and the short scenes in which some interviewers talk about their beliefs or their mottos. If these scenes were presented badly, they would come out like the “final speech” scenes in Hollywood films, in which the protagonists talk about what they would like the audience to believe, or preach indirectly to the audience. The latest example of this kind of scenes can be found in MISS SLOANE (2016, John Madden).

It’s hard to say why I feel positive for the Underground Manifesto scene.  I think the film finds the right “tone” to convey its messages.

9.  I feel sad and envy at the same time while watching this film. First, I feel sad because of the lyrics. The lyrics of the songs in this film talk about the problems in Greece, including economic problems, social problems like bad cops killing people, and political problems like the song SMASH THE FASCISTS by Oust! Some musical scenes also show the refugees from Syria.

But at the same time I feel envy for the people in Greece, because at least they still have “freedom of speech”, which cannot be found in Thailand now. Greece may be in crisis now, but at least they can “talk about the crisis” openly. They can sing about the problems openly. Thailand is also in crisis now-- the human right crisis, but we cannot talk about it. There is a Thai musical band who made some songs opposing the military dictatorship, but the members of the band were persecuted by the authority, and all of them fled the country and are in exile now. I guess musical artists in Thailand now only have two choices--stay silent for your own safety, or praise the military dictatorship.

As for Thailand in the past, there was once a big market for a genre called  “songs for life”, which talk about the problem of the poor, especially in the 1980s. But I think this kind of market have become much smaller nowadays. No one has made a Thai feature documentary about this subject yet, though there’s a biographical film called YOUNG BAO THE MOVIE (2013, Yuthakorn Sukmukdapa), which is about the origin of a Thai musical band who made “songs for life”. There are also some Thai short films about political protesters and songs, such as COLLECTION OF POPULAR SONGS (2015, Anuwat Amnajkasem, Chantana Tiprachart, 11min). And there are a few fan-made music videos for some Thai “songs-for-life”.

While I was watching SONGS OF REVOLUTION, I couldn’t help imagining what would happen if someone made a film about revoltionary songs in Thailand, too. But if someone makes a film about this subject in Thailand, the film would be in an ironic tone, not in a positive tone like SONGS OF REVOLUTION (I mean SONGS OF REVOLUTION portrays the artists in the film in a positive way), because what is interesting in Thailand is that some left-wing songs in the 1970s have been appropriated by right-wing groups (or groups which support the military dictatorship) in this decade, and some Thai bands who used to make music for the poor a few decades ago have turned to side with the military dictatorship now. The military dictatorship in Thailand use “anti-capitalism sentiment” as their weapon, so songs which are anti-capiltalism can be used by the Thai right wing, too.

10. Let me end this note with a list of my most favorite eight songs in the film. They are:
(in no particular order)
10.1 NORMAL KIDS – Trypes
10.2 DUST, ROCKS, MUD – Dmitris Poulikakos
10.3 I WAS BORN AT ONE MOMENT – Nikos Xylouris
10.4 THE FACTORY – Sotiria Bellou
10.5 I WILL SEND A LETTER TO GOD – Sotiria Bellou
10.6 THE JUMPERS – Antouan Parinis
10.7 LAUGH – Lost Bodies
10.8 NOTHING REAL – Lost Bodies

I hope SONGS OF REVOLUTION will be shown all over the world, and the film might inspire other filmmakers to make some films about revolutionary songs or political songs in their own countries. The world seems to be falling apart every day now, so at least what we can do is to try to give each other inspiration, hope, and positive energy as much as we can, may be by broadcasting or listening to great songs from far away land, from people who have suffered a great deal like us.

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