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Free Tibet (1998)

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Credited cast:
Matt Boner ...
Jimmy Chamberlin ...
Himself (Smashing Pumpkins)
Tim Commerford ...
Himself (Rage Against the Machine)
Himself (Smashing Pumpkins)
Himself (A Tribe Called Quest)
Zack De La Rocha ...
Himself (Rage Against the Machine)
Himself (as The Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Himself (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
William Goldsmith ...
Himself (Foo Fighters)
Herself (Sonic Youth)
Miho Hatori ...
Herself (Cibo Matto)


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Release Date:

11 September 1998 (USA)  »

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Crawlin' Kingsnake
Performed by John Lee Hooker
Courtesy of Pointblank/Virgin Records
Written by John Lee Hooker (as J.L. Hooker) and B. Besman
Courtesy of La Cienega Music Co.
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Free Tibet should have been literally "FREE".
4 February 2005 | by (Bookseller of the Blue Ridge) – See all my reviews

There is an aura of apathy with nearly everyone in attendance from the people to the bands that this is just another venue without any special purpose. This is just one of the few building blocks that crumble beneath director Sarah Pirozek on her feature documentary. She attempts to create this world where artists perform because they care about the immediate cause while, all the while in front of an audience that is ready to learn nearly everything they can. Free Tibet is to represent the joined hands of the music industry, a world full of terror, and the knowledge of the youth of our nation. It is to show that with the right message, anything can happen thanks to popularity and publicity. Well, I would hate to tell Pirozek this, but this was not the message conveyed in this documentary. What I witnessed was snippets of the bands performing their more popular song (to acquaint those for a brief moment with an artist that they may not know by name but by tune), massive amounts of audience members surfing through the audiences and banging their heads to the music (not so much learning about Tibet), and finally intermixed through all of this are random bits of unconnected information about Tibet and the horrors that they are facing. There is no wonder, at least in my mind, why one of the concert goers merely said, "I care, ya know, but short attention span." It was the same way that I felt about this film. There was no coherent structure to this film only visual proof that while a good cause may be the point of the concert, the overall effect is something completely different.

As I watched artists like Beck, Foo Fighters, the Fugees, and even Smashing Pumpkins take the stage, I kept waiting to see if they would mention Tibet in any of their songs, or stop the concert to talk about the problems that Tibet is facing. They may have done this, but sadly these were not images or moments that Pirozek wanted to show in her documentary. Instead, we found the youth of our nation being thrown around in pits of mud, screaming their lungs out, while seemingly having a good time. This is all great because these people probably paid top dollar for these tickets to come here, but I needed more information about Tibet than what was presented in this half rock concert half-documentary. If you are going to name your film Free Tibet, we need more than just snippets of song and people sleeping on the lawn. It was images like this that completely ravished Pirozek's point. There we would have a band singing on stage or a random insert of information about Tibet, followed up with images of ticket holders sleeping or teenie boppers running away from those willing to hand out information because it was their job, not because they "cared". This was an enormous problem for me because I really do care about what is happening in Tibet and want to see change come in my lifetime, but sadly these were not going to be the people that provided it.

The same goes for the artists performing that day. If you look at the whole day of events, there were probably only a handful of artists that actually cared for the cause they were playing for. Bjork was one of them, Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and of course, the spokesperson for Tibet, the Beastie Boys. Outside of these few people, I don't think that anyone was there for the purpose of Tibetan freedom, but instead to play to the mass audiences so that their records will do better down the road. It kinda made you sick to your stomach. I think Sonic Youth put it correctly when they said that most people think that rock stars have this sense of publicity around them, when in fact they are no different than you or I. My understanding was that they didn't really care about the concert, they were performing for their business.

Perhaps I am being to harsh on this film, but I really wanted to walk away from it thinking to myself that the sole purpose for these bands to gather for their fans is for the Tibetan refugees and the horror that China commits to their country, sadly this is not what I walked away with. Even if the Buddhists were to gain their freedom tomorrow, we would still see a "Free Tibet" concert happening next year because the fans want it and because rock stars have bills to pay too. Cynical, perhaps. Realistic, I think so. This was not a film about Tibet, this was a documentary to showcase some of the more popular songs of artists to hopefully increase record sales.

Overall (if you couldn't tell already), I was disappointed with the structure, layout, and development of this documentary. What could have been used (like the concert should have) as a healthy vehicle to further the information to the youth of our nation about what is happening in Tibet instead was just another way for money to be earned in the long run. Pirozek's random camera shots obliterated her points that she was continually trying to establish and the expressions/reactions from the crowd couldn't have been more demeaning. This was a sorry attempt for a protest and should have been mapped out a bit more wisely.

I did have one good point. I really enjoyed hearing Bjork's entire song "Hyper-ballad". Her music really is well beyond our time. For her alone I will give this film an extra rating … for her only!

Grade: ** out of *****

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