Barenaked in america

Before MTV and its bastard stepchildren took control of cable, the only place to see Rock Documentaries was on the big screen. Once relegated to midnight shows and film festivals, rock films came of age thanks to MTV and its spawn.

barenaked ladiesFilms like “Gimme Shelter” and “The Song Remains The Same” became more accessible than ever. They were no longer events. These films had to be experienced with an audience, usually one who saw them through rose colored glasses. There was something communal about these experiences, which served as an opportunity for 400 strangers to get together for two hours and act as one.

Rockumentaries are still alive and kicking, but have become so common place that no one really cares. Now they’re just fodder to wrap around the latest Ricky Martin video. Occasionally one or two break through the pack and prove that the medium is still vital.

Currently making the rounds in theaters is “Barenaked in America,” a lively and frequently funny expose of the Canadian pop group whose catchy lyrics and offbeat sense of humor have propelled them up the charts in the United States. “Barenaked in America” is presented as part of Shooting Gallery 2000 Fall Film Series.

Directed with a light touch by Jason Priestly, “Barenaked in America” follows the group during two weeks of their American tour just after their single “One Week” went number one. Instead of pulling back and capturing the guys on the fly, Priestly seems determined to be a presence in their lives. At first this creates an uneasy alliance where the band members seem cautious of what they say and do.

As the tour continues, they loosen up and Priestly finally catches them at their most raw. Priestly wisely allows the group to play several full-length numbers, providing audiences with a real glimpse of them in concert. He peppers the rest of the film with backstage antics, interviews with band members, friends and employees, and the real life drama involving pianist Kevin Hearn’s Leukemia.

You don’t have to be a fan of the band to fully appreciate “Barenaked in America,” but it helps. I got hooked on the band with their album “Gordon,” which includes some of their most eclectic tunes like “Bran Wilson,” “Be My Yoko Ono” and “If I Had a Million Dollars.” I became a full- fledged fan with the release of “Stunt” and the single “It’s All Been Done,” a catchy little tune that is discussed at length in the documentary.

“Barenaked in America” provides fans and others with the opportunity to put a face with the voice. It is here where Priestly excels as a filmmaker. After an hour-and-a-half we feel like we know these guys. It’s amazing and actually refreshing how real and grounded the band members are, and who seem to genuinely be having a good time despite their new found fame and responsibilities.

Lead singer Steven Page and lead guitarist Ed Robertson prove the most colorful, offering plenty of insight and humor. Pay close attention as Robertson changes his appearance more times than a chameleon. These two display a professional rivalry that works for the band.

The backstage drama involving Hearn and his replacement on the tour Chris Brown is honestly moving, giving the documentary emotional ballast and end caps that are actually about something.

Thanks to Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” America is rediscovering what life is like for rockers on the road. With full access (there’s even a shot of Robertson on the head), Priestly takes us on an unflinching journey with a band on the cusp of greatness.

Their journey is filled with all sorts of memorable moments that are included in the documentary, including stints on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and a misguided music video that completely baffles the band.

One only has to listen to any of the Barenaked Ladies CDs to understand the artistry and imagination involved. One of the great strengths of the documentary is that is allows us to be the fly on the wall during this process, catching the guys as they improvise both on and off stage. It’s a testament to how tight these guys are that they can riff for ten minutes and never miss a beat.

“Barenaked in America” is smarter than most of the cookie cutter Rockumentaries thrown together by cable. It’s alive with the spirit of rock and roll, and provides us with a window into the heart and soul of the players involved.

They’re not Barenaked, and they’re definitely not Ladies, but they are a group that finds pleasure in what they do. You will too.


Rock Documentary exposes Barenaked Ladies


Ed Robertson, Steven Page, Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Chris Brown and Tyler Stewart in a documentary directed by Jason Priestly. Not Rated. 90 Minutes.


Comments are closed.