Meeting People is Easy
directed by Grant Gee
Some wise person once said be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. This phrase is brought to mind repeatedly when viewing Radiohead and director Grant Gee’s feature film of the band’s tour to promote OK Computer . The film is brilliant at capturing the mind-numbing cycle of interviews, photo shoots, and traveling that come with being one of the more popular bands on the planet. Other than the scenes of the band performing, no portion of the movie is pleasant – begging the question, “why?” Why bother?
Why bother touring, or writing, or doing the interviews, if when it’s all said and done, the experience leaves you less than human?
Radiohead leader Thom Yorke tells you why – because you get addicted to the fame, the reader polls, the money – in short, your life has changed, and it’s seemingly difficult to go back. He relates growing up listening to the Smiths and REM, and realizing, standing in front of 40,000 people at the Glastonbury Festival, that he was now that sort of person in some young person’s life. You get the feeling that he doesn’t want the responsibility – his idea of fame does not necessarily include being a god. The images of young Japanese girls sobbing at a glimpse of their idols is unsettling – this is not the sort of thing you expect from Radiohead fans, who are portrayed as a rather intelligent, mature lot. To see them fawned over like a Spice Girl makes the viewer feel part of a club of the lowest common denominator.
Countering that are scenes of endless tedium – montages of interviewers all asking the same questions, thousands of camera flashes. The filming of the video for “No Surprises” is shown, and it is truly gruesome. The shot entails Yorke’s head being slowly submerged in water, encased in a diving bell. As the level rises above his eyes, you see the terror on his face, and the frantic thrashing to let the water out. You wonder why on earth anyone would put themselves through such an experience for a rock video, and you wonder if the person who directed it would be comfortable seeing it depicted in such an accusatory fashion, because Yorke seems overwhelmed by the event, as anyone would. You ponder this until you realize two things: a) Yorke consented to do this, and could have stopped at any time, and b) the person who directed the video also directed this movie. It’s an ugly bit of manipulation. It lessens the respect you have for the band, and forces you to look at the rest of the picture for what it is – a one-sided portrayal of the price of fame. Yes, it is hellish, and no, I wouldn’t want to experience the things shown in Meeting People Is Easy . Incredibly isolated, seemingly trapped in a world out of their control with nothing to do of your own choice, the life depicted here is not what people imagine when they ponder being a rock star. It wasn’t what Thom Yorke thought of when he watched Michael Stipe, either. He listened to the brilliant records, and they connected with him, and lit a spark in him to try it for himself. It is this side of the story we do not see. We get no pleasure from the songs, no feeling of the joy that comes from creating art, none of the high that can occur when you are performing.
At one point, a bored Yorke stands center-stage, microphone thrust toward the crowd as they sing the words to “Creep,” Radiohead’s first hit, and a song they now virtually disown, (calling it “refrigerator buzz”). As the song progresses, his face lightens into a smile, and you feel at that moment he is proud, proud of having made a difference. He seems able to toss away all the discomfort that lead up to that moment as the song careens behind him. It is a touching scene, the most affecting in the movie. If more such moments were included, it would be easier to take the horrorshow the rest of the film depicts.
Yorke is seen commenting to an interviewer that the band is perplexed by America’s devotion to celebrity – the endless attention we give stars, the carte blanche we award them. He seems somewhat disgusted by it all. Of course, he comes from a country that still has a monarchy, so he was raised in a climate of insignificant people getting media attention for doing nothing – it’s strange he doesn’t recognize the same over here. It also strikes you as a bit moronic that Yorke is telling this to a member of the media – not a friend or crew member. Just how do you think the famous got in a position to be idolized? You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Spokesman.
It’s hard to imagine whom this film was made for. The screaming Japanese girls won’t find enough concert footage in it, the media will feel either insulted or bored, and the average Radiohead fan might come away feeling cheated and manipulated, even while enjoying the moments of performance and song creation featured within. It’s very hard, almost impossible, to feel any sympathy for Yorke and crew. If this is not what you want, then stop. They know well enough that the world will go on – theirs included. REM survived quite well without doing videos or press for a spell (until the records stopped selling as well as before, but that is more a sign of boring records than lack of media attention) and Radiohead would, too.
Perhaps they ought to try it.