I’ve always enjoyed Mogwai, but I have to confess that up until this film, I don’t think I’ve listened to more than two tracks consecutively. Burning is a concert film, stripped down to the absolute basics. Gone are any distractions of tour footage and behind the scenes looks. In fact, on several tracks, the audience is kept out of frame completely. Indeed, for the first few numbers one begins to think there might not be one at all. And this is what makes Burning an interesting film.
Because its focus is so direct, the audience is asked to consider each choice more than they normally would. For lack of note-taking during the screening (I find it too distracting), I can’t remember which moments gelled with which songs. And given my unfamiliarity with the music, the track names don’t resonate to me. However, I think this gave me an added benefit during the screening. Instead of thinking in terms of the songs I know or don’t know, I could instead follow the direction of the camera. If not a narrative, a story is told through the careful placement of each image. One song may be dominated by close-up images of the fretboard, fingers working up and down to create a landscape of sound. In these moments, one’s ear is visually drawn to focus on each presented aspect of the song. It allows (or damn near forces) one to approach the music differently. When suddenly the audience is brought in, it is accompanied by the first signs of smiles from the musicians. The song is chosen as the moment the band feels the audience connect — when they emerge from their cocoon of concentration and invite the social aspect of live music into the playing field.
The film starts with grainy black and white footage — for a while, I was waiting for it to break away and accept a more traditional concert approach — the usual sweeping crane shots of the band in all their stadium rocking glory. Thankfully, Burning is a smart enough project to never fall for that trap. It remains consistent and artistic.
For fans of Mogwai, this film is surely a delight. For those who are less aware of their work, this is not the worst place to jump in. It reveals the band as being capable of quite a lot, and shows them in an environment that evaluates their music — both in the visual choices of the medium and in the inclusion of an audience. I can’t imagine sitting down and watching this intensely a second time. But I’m not sure that’s at all what this film is about. Instead, I imagined it projected on a screen, sound system cranked to its most clear and hard-hitting, as the backdrop to a party. In this atmosphere, I can’t imagine much else filling as perfectly. But, like all concert films, beyond representing the bands ability — there is nothing more to be said.