Fearless Freaks, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/29/05 14:22:57

"This movie don't use jelly."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If you were to meet Wayne Coyne on the street, you’d probably never guess that he was the frontman of the psychedelic art rock band The Flaming Lips. He’s just a normal guy, a down to earth average Joe, his speaking voice absent of the strained Roger Waters-meets-Neil Young whine we hear pumping out those lead vocals. Heck, the guy even lives in a small house in the Oklahoma suburbs. Which, it turns out, it the beauty of the Lips: they’re just ordinary people who, by the way, are making extraordinary music.

Bradley Beesley, a longtime friend of the Lips who’s been capturing their exploits on film and video since the late 1980s, has compiled his footage for “The Fearless Freaks,” a documentary that follows their origins, their rise to cult fame, and their current lives. Like most films of this kind, it’ll appeal mostly to fans of the subject in question, obsessive sorts who long for as much Lips info as possible. And yet it’s one of those memorable rock movies that goes beyond simply for-the-fans; Beesley’s friendship has allowed some remarkable closeness. Such closeness creates more than just a fanpic. It creates a harrowing story of three people whose lives would be worth following even if they weren’t rock stars.

Consider the scene in which drummer Steven Drozd prepares, methodically, to shoot heroin. He’s been using for years now, and he’s none too shy about explaining the ritual (not to mention the drug’s effects) to Beesley’s camera. We’re not sure which is more shocking: the fact that we’re about to watch Drozd do this, that he’s doing it as matter-of-factly as possible, or that he seems completely unconcerned with the harm he’s doing to his band. You see, one bandmate had already quit due to Drozd’s drug ways, and Coyne has made a point of explaining to anyone interested that while his songs may be trippy, he’s actually drug-free. But Drozd, like any addict, has only the high to come on his mind. Beesley captures this with cold honesty, and the scene elevates “Freaks” from a decent rock band expose to a truly memorable one.

But like the Lips’ music itself, “Freaks” is not content to stay put for long. The movie jumps around, offering everything from a rundown of the band’s past experiments (watch for the various audience-participation trials that Coyne undertakes in a lead-up to the band’s four-disc CD set - the catch being that all four CDs must be played at the same time) to Coyne’s current project, a sci-fi movie titled “Christmas On Mars,” which he’s making in his backyard, without a script.

That Coyne would try such a thing - he considers the film to be more of “a doodle” - reveals the artistry behind the band. These are guys interested not in the formula of the thing, but in the art. They do not set out to make radio-friendly tunes, and the “Mars” movie is surely not one to hit the multiplexes any time soon. Instead, they strive for bold moves, daring undertakings that stretch their limits and challenge their audiences.

And that is where “Freaks” succeeds. Beesley could have made just a fan movie, a series of greatest-hits footage, the story of the band, and we get the obligatory concert footage and video clips, built to please the Lips groupies. But here we get much more. We get a peek at the private lives of these people, the unexpected treat being that these are average Joes who just happen to have the artistic touch. The intimate portrait is so well-built, so deftly handled, that even if you’ve never heard of the Flaming Lips, you should give “Freaks” a spin.

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