Dir: Stephen Kijak. UK. 2006. 90mins.
A great enigma of modern music sheds a few layers ofopacity in Stephen Kijak's revealing documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. With a challenging new record recently issued, thereclusive, sporadically active American-born singer is seen at close quarters,while collaborators and assorted music notables, including executive producerDavid Bowie, attest to Walker'senduring influence.
Obsessive fans - some ofwhom have stuck with their hero since the 1960s - will be in clover, whilenon-initiates will be fascinated by a man for whom the term 'maverick' couldwell have been invented.
Slated for UK release in early 2007, the film is likely tohave modestly healthy theatrical life, although Walker's obscurity in his own country maycloud US prospects. A must for the festival circuit, the film should alsoflourish on DVD, with a promised plethora of extra interview footage attached.
Narrated by Sara Kestelman, the film follows Ohionative Walker, born Scott Engel, from his earlydays - photos show him as a 14-year-old aspiring bobbysoxer idol in 1958 -through his stint with crooning trio the Walker Brothers, whose career in themid-1960s made the band UKidols on a par with The Beatles.
When their grandiose balladeering - built around Walker'sdramatic baritone - was eclipsed by psychedelia, Walker launched a solocareer, mixing his own distinctive songs with covers of Jacques Brel, then little known in the Anglophone world. After thecommercial failure of his ambitious album Scott4, Walkerentered a fallow period of inactivity mixed with substandard releases.
Since the early 1980s,however, Walker'ssolo work has come increasingly close to modern classical music in its sombre, often frightening orchestral impressionism. As wellas interviewing his subject, Kijak films him duringthe sessions for new record The Drift,revealing Walker'spainstaking and unusual methods: percussion instruments used include a slappedside of pork. Any suggestion of self-conscious solemnity, however, isundermined by glimpses of Walker'sgenial good humour.
While his mystique as aninvisible man is rivaled only by Howard Hughes and Thomas Pynchon,Walker comesacross in interview as an intelligent, serious-minded, lucid and altogether down-to-earthcharacter. Although admirers paint him in exalted colours- he's variously compared here to TS Eliot, Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon -extracts from Walker's daring and intensely individual music show that theenthusiasm is deserved.
In terms of interviewees, Kijak's thorough approach strikes gold. While the othererstwhile Walker Brothers are notably absent, Kijaktracks down collaborators past and present including Angela Morley, nee WallyStott, Walker'sarranger in the 1960s. Admirers featured include Jarvis Cocker, Alison Goldfrapp, Brian Eno, members of Radiohead and even singer Lulu, who admits to having had acrush on Walkerin the 1960s, but who looks a little alarmed by his recent work.
Kijik has also unearthed some archive gems, including 1960sfootage of Walkerperforming on BBC variety shows. Recent songs are accompanied by Graham Wood'simpressionistic digital animations, which while handsome, inevitably evokecomparisons with hippy-era BBC TV music show The Old Grey Whistle Test.
Still missing, however, isan insight into how Walker spent his extended periods of silence, which havelasted up to a decade at a time: as for their causes, the singer himself onlymakes one discreet passing reference to his "imbibing". But while his reticenceprecludes too much open self-revelation, Walkeremerges as a far saner, more modest figure than many in the music world. Kijak's film may demystify Walker as a man and an artist, but themystique of his powerful, unnerving music remains intact.
AIM High Productions
Missing In Action Films