Gigantic is the story of They Might Be Giants, a unique musical group centered on John Flansburgh and John Linnell. We're introduced to the duo's lyrical and melodic craft when, for example, well-known actors recite Giants lyrics, underscoring the dark words often coupled with bright tunes. We also catch a glimpse of the band's ideas about performance from the blend of footage from concerts, television, music videos, and other media. Running through the whole film is a portrayal of the Johns' friendship and ultimately, their view of the world, which we see in interviews with the Giants themselves, their colleagues, and their fans. Written by
Andy Zimolzak <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The documentary shows They Might Be Giants holding a release party for their CD "Mink Car" at a New York City Tower Records store. Left unstated is that this party took place at midnight on September 11th, 2001, slightly less than nine hours before the attacks on the World Trade Center several miles away. See more »
How sad for them that they're actually in the band. And so for them to hear that sound they actually have to make it themselves.
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I have long valued the music of this group, though they seem to have been on a gradual slide since this was released. It's a very intelligent work. It has an effluence of dim exposition like in similar presentations, but stands apart in that it doesn't depend on same. It's quite self-aware and competently engineered, as a stylized annotation of this type of music.
If you read most dissertations on They Might Be Giants, it's a lot of stuff about whimsicality and the macabre. Hogwash. If that's the essence of these guys then they're no more notable than countless other musicians.
Their appeal lies entirely within their ethic. That is, the song subject is subservient to the orchestration and not vice versa. The result is an inverse of rigid songwriting standards. The energy of the songs is within the shifting layers of their composition, which is highly transitory (an explanation for this is overtly given in the film, and why the Giants chose this direction. Hint: it's in the segment about Dial-A-Song); the notes veer off trajectory from what listeners normally expect from pop music, because most of the time in pop the complex interaction of sounds is reduced to being a mere extension of the lyrics. Two dominating concepts are, turgid filler about love heartaches, or narrative story that steers the sound like a train. Blunt, unvaried, no creativity, no adventurousness.
With TMBG it's the opposite. The words hover at a distance from the instruments, sometimes above, sometimes beneath, sometimes in both places concurrently, always as discordant strands. Yes, colorful and evocative as fans often express but that isn't the only facet. And it's that antithesis of pop's bland sameness which the label execs tried to corner these two into adopting after they enjoyed some early success, and endures through tripe like Britney.
Most of the running commentary here struck me as facile; mundane espousals made funny by the commentators being totally sincere in their blather. Paradoxical that Syd is not and yet she is particularly tiresome. Same as her writing. You get much more sublimity just from the various recitals (by no less than Janeane Gorofalo!).
The director knows all this. His work here approaches greatness in how he mirrors the Giants aesthetic in concept and execution. He uses those bits of chatter as swatches and arranges them according to the requirements of the abstract fabric he's weaving. This shows a highly developed understanding of the "rock-doc" form.
One of the talking heads describes the band as the "vanguard of alternative," which illustrates the basic difference of this production vis-à-vis other rock-docs. A minor overview of the Hell's Kitchen scene, the arguments with record label execs, and a tidbit about coffee addiction replace rote enumerations of band member drama, rampant sex, and drugs. These are all explicitly referenced and made fun of.
But the most essential point of all is the flow. See how it careens forward and backward in chronology and off-topic, equivalent to the music itself. A passage here and there interrupted right in the middle with a long concert footage excerpt. Now back to the film. Now backtrack to a few years ago for a forgotten aside. Meticulously designed, yet an apparent jumble. That's where it's at.
Oh, and I do prefer John and John's output prior to the Band of Dans. But if you aren't familiar with these fellows I recommend you seek out their "Lincoln" LP before watching this. It's a prime example of how well they can layer and shift dissonant sounds throughout the listening space to arrive at something both tangential and harmonious. It is entirely what this film defines and is defined by.
Blake's rating: 3 (out of 4)
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