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Meeting People Is Easy

April 11, 2011

I’m almost ashamed to admit that as a hardcore Radiohead fanatic it’s taken me this long into my fandom to watch their rockumentary Meeting People is Easy. Every major band has an iconic film that presents fans with insight to each member’s personality or to a band’s performances; Bob Dylan had Don’t Look Back a seeing eye into the life of Dylan on tour at the birth of his fame, The Talking Heads had Stop Making Sense which exposed fans to the hyper and jovial on stage antics of the band, and The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter followed the band on tour ultimately leading to the stabbing of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont concert. Meeting People is Easy is a different film all together as it combines elements from its predecessors to create something unique and innovative. It’s more than a documentary, it instead is an avant-garde experimental time capsule of the band during the height of their career after releasing their 1997 magnum opus Ok Computer.

Ok Computer is the album that pushed Radiohead from musicians to gods in the eyes of fans and critics. Meeting People is Easy showcases how the praise and glory centered on the album began to affect the band just as their relentless touring began to take its toll for over a year ending on their 102nd show at New York City Radio Hall. Director Garrett Gee somehow seems to capture every aspect of the band’s hectic lives at the time, including producing new songs, television appearances, promotion, and hours of press all while on tour. Instead of voice over narration or the “fly of the wall” type of direct cinema, Gee heavily relies on editing to create an arching theme and move the story forward impressively compressing a year of work from the band into a barely 90-minute piece. Through quick edits that change time and space, super imposed images that give depth and feeling, and by masterfully changing the dynamics of sound and color, the documentary not only demands attention but also evokes empathy towards the band’s conflicted feelings for their new found fame.

In one segment a series of edits cut back and forth between guitarist Ed O’Brien, drummer Phil Selway, and bass player Colin Greenwood being interviewed by various media outlets. The segment continues on the trio momentarily emphasizing the absence of  two vital members, guitarist Johnny Greenwood and lead singer Thom Yorke. An exhausted Colin later vents to an interviewer about the pressures he, Ed, and Phil experience when doing press since his brother Johnny refused to do television interviews because he “thinks he comes across as an idiot” while Yorke avoided many interviews all together.  Shortly after, a solitary surveillance shot captures Yorke pacing by himself in a dressing room while cutaways reveal his band mates out at a night club. Gee’s inclusion of the aforementioned scenes subtly explores the depression that Yorke experienced during and after the tour. Gee further showcases Yorke’s agitation with fame in one captivating scene shot from within a Philadelphia audience where Radiohead performs their hit single “Creep” from their 1993 debut Pablo Honey, a song the band grew to hate throughout the years. Yorke stands on stage silent and seemingly disgusted that the entire venue is singing every word to “Creep” in unison while he holds the microphone limp-wristed towards them. However, from it’s stationary position the camera captures a change in Yorke’s reaction as a smirk appears on his face quickly becoming a smile of amusement while the audience continues, until ultimately he finds solace in the song returning the microphone to his lips to belt out the chorus.

The A.V. Club’s list of “13 Rock Movies that Make Their Subjects Look Like Dicks” ignited my desire to finally watch Meeting People is Easy to see if my idols were in fact dicks. While I agree with much of the Club’s list, Meeting People Is Easy is not one of them, and it’s not because of my undying love for Radiohead. The A.V. Club notes that the band’s apprehension with fame made them appear dickish, a sentiment I can see many viewers of this film having. No one wants to listen to and watch a group of privileged adults bitch about fame yet still partake in the very machine they condemn. However, Radiohead’s complaints weren’t in vain and Meeting People is Easy portrays the group as individuals who only saw themselves as musicians doing what they loved while trying not to get sucked into their own hype. Yorke laments angrily at one point to the other members that “it’s [success] a mind fuck” and later to an interviewer about the struggles of keeping fans happy when expectations are set as well as adjusting to a life of wealth without becoming an egomaniac. Although it may not be for everyone due to its non-linear structure, Meeting People is Easy is an entertaining and beautifully constructed depiction of an amazing band that can either turn you on or off to the enigma that is Radiohead.


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