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Rock-music lover and feature-film director Jonathan Demme takes on eccentric British singer-songwriter, Robyn Hitchcock, in an ambitious concert film. Setting up a stage in a New York storefront, Hitchcock plays with his back to the glass, while an audience looks on inside and passersby view the action through the window. Written by
When Jonathan Demme made the Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense in 1984 he set a standard that no director since has been able to match. The stark visuals and unique music of the band along with an amazing performance by main man David Byrne created an experience that many consider to be the last word in "rockumentary" film making. Fourteen years on Demme returned to the genre with StoreFront Hitchcock, a concert movie of arguably one of Englands finest, certainly one of it's most idiosyncratic, singer/songwriters Robyn Hitchcock. Filmed over two days StoreFront has Hitchcock performing his music in a NYC shop window, a bizzare concept but totally in touch with the singers famously "unusual" sensibilities. Demme films Hitchcock, along with Violinist Deni Bonnet and Bass player Tim Keegan, with their backs to the window as bemused passers by stare in (look out for producer and regular Demme cameo player Kenneth Utt!) As in Stop Making Sense we can hear the audience but not see them, instead sharing their Point of view to give us the feeling of being part of the live experience. Hitckcock himself is far less a visual performer than David Byrne which may be part of the reason Demme gives him an ever changing New York street as a backdrop. Instead of big suits and stage acrobatics, inbetween songs, Hitchcock includes some of his bizzare monologues and surreal observations. These tend to grate after a while although some are quite amusing. And there's always the knowledge that they're probably going to be followed by a fabulous, if completely unconnected, song. Many of these are taken from Hitchcocks then current Moss Elixer album with a few oldies and some of his work with The Egyptians thrown in. For those of us who feel that Hitchcocks music always sounded at it's best in it's most pared down, stark incarnations this is a joy. The fact that this is in essence an "unplugged" session brings his voice to the fore and it's rarely sounded better. A good example is the version of "The Yip Song" - that insanely manic number with it's "Vera Lynn" chorus appears here as a far more melancholic piece, aided by an on-screen dedication to Hitchcocks father Raymond. Maybe comparing this film to the Talking Heads movie is a little unfair. Demme may have used a similar technique but it does have it's own distinct flavour, perhaps unsuprising considering it has such a colourful artist as its subject. It never reaches the exhilarating levels of seeing Stop Making Sense in a movie theatre but Demme should be congratulated for having the smarts, ability and just plain good taste to bring such a unique talent to the big screen. Miles Pieri
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