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Cat Power - Speaking for Trees
by: luckysoandso 15 january 05
The raw visionary, lucid talent displayed by Cat Power and director Mark Borthwick on Speaking For Trees makes the heart skip. This box set including DVD with a feature length film of Cat Power performing and extras – as well as a CD featuring one eighteen minute long song and a 64 page hand illustrated sleeve – is an extraordinary thing to come out of a modern artist, never mind to get past the record company.
The film consists of one long shot of Cat Power sleepily playing her guitar some distance off, whilst the singing of the birds and winds threatening to rise up over her playing gives the film a heavenly voyeuristic quality. Critics of the film have spoken out against the arty treatment. In a tradition of experimentalist films, Speaking for Trees doesn’t include any clichéd or pointless footage; its originality is in its direct and focused approach to Cat Power and the scene around her. Speaking for Trees’ hazy fascination with nature reminds me of Harmony Korine’s film Above the Below for channel 4. He filmed the footage of David Blaine suspended in a box over the Thames and the reaction of the crowd, but seemed equally fascinated by the birds flying in the sky.
This method of filmmaking blends perfectly with Chan Marshall’s laid-back performance style. Playing live, she often leaves songs unfinished or plays a few chords and moves on. Barefoot on the grass in a clearing, her shyness feels less acute in this sunny place than live on stage, but the signature flop of chestnut hair still hides her away from her audience. Songs off You Are Free like ‘Evolution’ and ‘I Don’t Blame You’ appear on this mixed up set in amongst mostly covers, Sophisticated Lady and Knockin’ on Heavens Door to note.
The music to the film is less like a structured performance and more like a running musical commentary, with songs blended and bent into one and other. The real musical treat comes with the bonus track Willie Deadwilder – a saga song lasting eighteen minutes and comically sad from the outset ‘I don’t care, I love to share’ sings Chan simply in the middle of the love story combining Willie and Rebecca, Dylan and Ramona.
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