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Words for the Dying (1990)

| Documentary


Credited cast:
John Cale ...


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Flawed, but unusual.
3 August 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This rockumentary documents the making of John Cale's "The Falklands suite", which sets Dylan Thomas poetry to music, backed by a symphony orchestra and a boys' choir. The result is either ethereal or insufferable, depending on the listener. Cale and producer Brian Eno are the two of the most highly talented musicians in the rock genre, so this film promises to be highly interesting.

Unfortunately, Cale invites filmmaker Rob Nilsson without informing Eno, who as a matter of policy forbids cameras during recording sessions. So we're treated to surveillance camera film and shots of Eno telling Nilsson to leave. Brian Eno observes he doesn't see a way the film could be interesting in the end. Unfortunately, he's on target. The result is a collage that really doesn't shed light on Cale and Eno's collaboration in a satisfying way.

The most revealing scenes are incidental: A Russian rock musician explains that the Soviets held up the Velvet Underground and especially Andy Warhol as symbols of western decadence, and that Cale's very presence in a state studio is proof of Glasnost. John Cale and his family return to Wales and visit his mother in order to dispose of the family home. Cale listens to video of two highly critical fans and reflects "those observations are very cogent".

In the final scene, Cale remarks "You know that whole thing about the separate things that when you put them together give you a third thing that's not there. Well, I don't have it." He could have been talking about this film.

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