Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tom Ze deconstructed on film

"I'm a terrible singer, a terrible composer, a terrible musician… so it doesn’t make much difference if I play a piano or a vacuum cleaner."

Just opening now, Frabricando Tom Ze (Frabricating Tom Zé) is a behind the scenes look at the 2005 European tour (where he’s a star) of Brazilian singer/composer where he's deconstructed as film-maker Decio Matos, Jr. looks at his career and life.

At the 5th encore at a show, he admonishes his band. "Play faster! Play louder! More distortion!" Why all the drama? "A concert is the most boring thing in the world," he explains off-stage and if anything, boring he ain't. Throughout the film, he comes across as colorful, animated, chatty, eccentric, self-effacing. He even goes out of his way to learns local language at each stop to address and sing with crowds in France, Switzerland and Italy. "I am completely illiterate, that’s why the people take pity on me."

Around time of London bombing, he warns an Italian crowd that Bush is bombing everywhere, and they must protect yourself. Later, he gets the Italian crowd to chant and sing "Giorgio Bush" as if to say who the real terrorist is. Later still, to show how proud he is of a verse he's written, he makes his bassist sing it no less than four times in a row.

"I didn’t want to create music," he explains as he shrugs off the slings/arrows of early detractors who didn't believe that he was making music.

Ze tours with long-time wife who’s supportive and gives advice and gave up her journalism career to be with him as he traveled and worked. That includes Ze composing everywhere and at any time, even during a soundcheck. At another show, he and another band member wear plastic helmets and bang each other on the head with mallets as rest of band plays. After that, sparks fly as they play buffers (how industrial-like) as Ze has always been fascinated with machines. He then folds and stretches papers as percussion instrument and then chews the paper. Did I mention that he's a truly inspired eccentric?

The next stop on the tour is the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland where Ze is honored to be at initially. But then at the sound check, he finds the staff there is taking him seriously and eventually he throws a fit. Back at his hotel late, he's still furious over this snub, ridiculing the "beautiful" and vain Swiss people and compares them against himself and his "ugly" band, saying his hosts are jealous of him and have to import him to get some culture. Back at the soundcheck, he keeps throwing a fit and yelling "fuck yourself" at the staff there before he shoves a engineer. It's the only time we see him losing his cool in the movie and it's alternately frightening and astonishing. Somehow though, it works out in the end.

Then at another show in France, things aren't going much better. He's composing right before going on and soon trying to get crowd to sing about the place along but doesn’t go well, leaving his wife is crying in sympathy. Ze just shrugs it off but admiring the huge venue, sitting on the side of a mountain.

What he is hurt and bothered by is the snubbing he's gotten in Tropicalia history, always seeming to come behind Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil (who is now a Brazilian cultural minister and who also appears in the film). The popular story is that Ze withdrew after being swept up in Tropicalia (which he actually proceeded). Then enter David Byrne who discovered his music, re-released it in the West and effectively not only resurrected Ze but helped to raise his profile beyond what it had ever been. Even Gotham Brazilians didn’t understand why Byrne bothered with Ze- there are so many great Brazilian musicians so why would he waste his time with someone who was so strange. Byrne's instincts paid off and Ze became an international sensation, hence the European tour we see chronicled in the film.

Don't you just love happy endings?

Frabricando Tom Ze (Frabricating Tom Zé) will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Monday, July 23rd at 6:00pm as part of their Premiere Brazil! series.


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