Beautiful Noise

Passion rather than insight drives this fan-oriented, surface-level tribute to a short-lived music movement.
Beautiful Noise

Image: supplied

You may not have heard of noise guitar, but you have definitely heard it. If not the term, then the sound, part of a trend labelled shoegazing with derision by the media. Think Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, each making their mark on the English music scene in the 1980s. All three certainly sprang to writer/director Eric Green’s mind, forming the foundation of his documentary look at the movement.

His debut effort Beautiful Noise explores the style that earns such a description, complete with a fitting and almost ceaseless soundtrack. Act by act and album by album, the film attempts to explain just what made the distinctive sound echo through eardrums, then hearts and minds as well. Progressing chronologically, a map of the movement eventuates, as does a picture of its evolution into the 1990s and beyond. Also sketched out is the variety within the subculture. From atmospheric pop, to melodic rock, to distortion and reverberation, the emphasis on guitars may remain, but each band carved their own niche.

To assist, members of the three main acts offer their perspectives. Even the most reclusive – My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid – remain frank and rarely indulge in nostalgia, refreshingly so for a music documentary. Juxtaposing chats from their respective heydays courtesy of archival footage with reflections from recent times provides a telling contrast between the then and now of a sonic phenomenon that came and went quickly. The bands that followed their lead are also represented through interviews with musicians from Ride, Slowdive, Lush, Catherine Wheel, Boo Radleys and more, helping to build a broader portrait of an insular area. 

Alas, though informative for the uninitiated, and filled with insider titbits for aficionados, Beautiful Noise is rarely anything more than a surface-level tribute. Driven by an obviously devoted mindset, it makes its affection clear from the outset, as sustained through the clumsily structured patchwork of talking heads and concert videos. The downfall of the style and associated bands, courtesy of the rise of grunge and Britpop, earns ample attention in what amounts to an earnest and meanderinf lament of fleeting popularity. From touching upon the resurgence of the last decade to listing other bands influenced by shoegaze, a fan’s visually low-key perspective – sans anything past cursory social and political context – is all that’s on offer. 

Of course, where the most enthusiastic efforts succeed is in conveying the reason for their dedication, here best manifested in the other big names that grace the film’s frames. Relying upon famous fans to fill in the gaps once again shows the feature’s flimsiness, but also adds to the passion that oozes from the documentary from start to finish. Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins remembers first hearing the Cocteau Twins, Robert Smith of The Cure talks of falling in love with the sound, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips speaks of his appreciation of the lack of spectacle, and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails shares insights into the inspiration he gained. At one point, Reznor remarks, “I don’t think a good band can put the same record out over and over again,” an observation perhaps the film itself could have heeded by providing more than one mode of unbridled idolatry.


Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Beautiful Noise
Director: Eric Green

USA, 2014, 90 mins

Australian Centre for the Moving Image

31 January – 8 February

Sarah Ward

Thursday 29 January, 2015

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay