Top of the Docs #22 – Noise (2006)

Kim Gordon in Noise, image courtesy of mk2 Films.

Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media, with each month tending to focus on a particular theme. For the final week of June, July, and August, we will be covering documentaries shot at music festivals!

Since 1983, each year the Art Rock Festival in St. Brieuc, Brittany, has selected an artist to curate an evening at the festival. Across two stages, the artist is given complete control of the programming. In 2005, Olivier Assayas was given his opportunity, and what would follow would encapsulate the spirit behind a certain genre of music that had made waves throughout the last three decades.

Noise (2006) is Assays’ documentation of his work at the festival. While not strictly a music festival, with lectures and screenings also taking place, the film very much has a feel of a small festival. This is helped of course by the concert footage, in which we get to see acts such as Metric, Jeanne Balibar, and Sonic Youth perform amongst a collage of images that evoke that late 90s indie music vid aesthetic. Assayas may be capturing this moment late, but this not-quite-grunge, not-quite-pure-noise indie scene that had garnered a hardcore following since the late 1980s finally had its concert film, brought to screen by the man who had helped bring attention to their sound.

It’s quite striking that when we think of the two directors that, arguably, defined our vision of France in the 1990s – Clare Denis and Olivier Assayas – we think of bands. Sonic Youth had been a key part of Assayas’ career, from his soundtracks, to his scores, to Kim Gordon appearing in Boarding Gate (2007). At this point in his career, Assayas was defined by this sound, and with Noise he creates a celebration of it and all of its elements. Some of the visual effects used may come across as dated, or even pointless, but they are such a part of what made this whole scene. The dissonance between pop and feedback noise, between punk and progressive rock, Sonic Youth and others managed to capture this, and Assayas had channelled it into his films, creating masterpieces of discordant drama, blending the spy and corporate thriller effortlessly, allowing the latter to almost become chic.

Noise is a festival experience like no other. Captured over the course of an evening, it is abrasive, slightly past it, but pumped full of energy. Fifteen years on from the year that punk broke, Assayas revels in its breaking, creating an experience perfect for those missing that magical feeling of an expertly curated small festival. Had you been planning to attend a festival this year, and are missing the experience of having your mind blown not just by bands, but by the whole visceral visual experience of a festival, I might suggest Noise as a way to create some of that feeling in your own home.