To this point, the Beastie Boys concert film Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! has played only in a handful of places: at the Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals and, last week, at multiplexes across the country during one-time-only whoop-dee-doo screenings held in conjunction with Big Screen Concerts. The latter is a relatively new endeavor that's attempting to turn screening rooms into concert halls--a quaint throwback to the long-ago days when AC/DC's Let There Be Rock toured theaters and made it possible for us wee lads to attend a mock rock show when our parents wouldn't think of letting us go to the real deal, lest we wind up next to the dopers and gropers. When Let There Be Rock was making its four-wall foray in 1980, they even sold sweet mock concert tees by the concession stand. And I will forever swear there was some dude smoking a jay in the back row, tokin' up in honor of Bon Scott's last stand.
But the Beasties' offering doesn't attempt to replace (or even replicate) the concertgoing experience any more than a strobe light makes a good replacement for a flashlight when the power goes out. Awesome is a spastic mess shot by 50 Beasties fans at the band's Madison Square Garden show on October 9, 2004, and edited by Adam "MCA" Yauch, who, apparently and rather surprisingly didn't go blind or crazy during the process. After you see it in a theater, the outside world will seem surprisingly slowed-down, almost static; it took a good five minutes before I was even able to drive home in a straight line, so chaotic and fleeting are the images in a movie made by amateurs and assembled by an auteur with the attention span of a one-year-old. If Yauch and his longtime partners in rhyme--Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad Rock" Horowitz--don't exactly reinvent the medium, they show a remarkable lack of respect for it; Jonathan Demme would not approve.
Indeed, Awesome, which was originally intended as a home-video release and is receiving only a limited theatrical run (it starts Friday at Lagoon Cinema), is just the opposite of Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold. Demme has no interest in the audience at all; the crowd isn't even shown, except by accident. He's focused on the performer and the performance; his movie might as well come with a lyric sheet. But the Beasties--whose set list relies mainly on material from its most recent release, To the 5 Boroughs, to the delight of the hometown crowd--seem to enjoy pushing the limits and testing our patience. So much of the movie has got that digital blur to it; it's pixilated from almost start to finish, and we breathe a sigh of relief when one of the professional cameramen acting as backup fixes his in-focus lens on Horowitz for an extended period of time late in the movie (and by extended period I mean, like, two seconds).
Without its gimmicks, though, the movie might have been too ordinary; watching three guys in green and yellow sweatsuits bounce around a stage for 90 minutes is as antiquated as the wax cylinder, after all. The point is to disorient and delight, to discombobulate and dazzle--to manufacture a high for those who forgot to bring their stash to the theater. And Awesome does, to its credit, gather momentum and build to a frenzied climax; by the time Horowitz introduces "Sabotage" by dedicating it to George W. Bush, the bystander's grimace has long since turned to a grin of appreciation and--what else?--affection.