The Beastie Boys are awesome. I’ll hear no opposing arguments on that point. Their rhymes, their rhythms, their attitude, their in-your-face whiteness — it’s all so much fun, so wickedly clever, so refreshingly catchy. Their concert film, “Awesome; I F***in’ Shot That!,” almost captures just how dope they are. It’s a miss, but it’s a near one.
On Oct. 9, 2004, the Boys performed at Madison Square Garden. With a concert film in mind, they had a camera crew on hand, but they had another nifty idea, too: They handed out video cameras to 50 audience members and let them film the show from their perspectives throughout the arena. The footage shot by those stoners, frat boys and New Jersey Guidos comprises the bulk of the film (hence the title, a reference to what those fans will presumably say when they see the movie).
The Boys are in fine form in this show, ripping through two dozen songs both old and new with their usual energy and panache. They are supported by the gifted Mix Master Mike on the turntables, as well as by band members who accompany them on a few of their less-rappish, more-funky numbers.
To have been at that concert must have been fantastic, and “Awesome” nearly conveys it. The audience footage is grainy and jittery, of course, though the sound is state-of-the-art. For the most part, the “official” recording of the concert is used to provide the soundtrack, rather than the awful version that would have been picked up by the “bootleg” cameras, though there are a few instances where we cut to the local sound so we can hear an enthusiastic cameraperson tell his fellow audience members, “Look real excited! This is gonna be on the DVD!” (In one amusing interlude, a cameraman takes his camera into the bathroom with him, the concert still thumping away in the background.)
The director of the film is Adam Yauch, aka the Beasties’ MCA, aka Nathaniel Hornblower (his nom de cinema), and a total of four editors are credited. Those four did the work of 10 people, wading through 50 amateur tapes plus the professional stuff and putting together a film that represents all of them. If there is a movie with more cuts, more shots and more angles than this one, I haven’t seen it. The editing frequently becomes so machine gun-like that it takes on a strobe effect, with as many as six cuts per second sometimes.
This is good and bad. On the one hand, it plays to the film’s advantage when the Boys are working through a climactic finale number; the viewer can feel the intensity rise in a way even the arena audience couldn’t have. But on the other hand, it becomes visually tiresome after a while — a fact Yauch and his colleagues evidently realized, judging from the amount of effects they added in post-production (black-and-white, colored filters, and other Photoshop-style alterations) that were meant to add variety but which eventually become tiresome.
It would seem that letting the audience film your show for you is better in theory than in execution. Viewers of a concert film want to see their idols up close, and audience members don’t have the necessary vantage points. The professional videographers’ footage looks much better, is less shaky, and gives the viewer a far better experience in terms of seeing the Boys in close-up, or the fiendishly talented hands of Mix Master Mike, which the audience couldn’t see at all.
In the end, this is a concert film with only average appeal. Those who love the Beastie Boys will love it, while those with only a passing interest will be only passingly interested. The best films of this genre — like the Neil Young one that played at the same Sundance Film Festival — transcend fandom by creating a work that stands alone. “Awesome” doesn’t do that, but it surely gives the hardcore fans something to swear by.
B- (1 hr., 33 min.; )