From the onset, "Barenaked In America" is entertaining and full of verve. Even the opening credits offer the promise of an interesting and fun journey. The documentary was featured in the 1999 Toronto Film Festival for its world premiere with director Jason Priestly presenting along with Steven Page, Ed Robertson and Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies. Priestly has had association with the band for some time and it seems to be a labour of love for him.
The film goes behind the scenes to capture moments from their early history to their most recent tour. Even a native Torontonian fan of the band like myself discovered things I never knew about this dynamic ensemble. With many humourous accounts and opinions from celebrities to the BNL tour bus driver to the band themselves, I feel a second viewing is required to finally make out what I missed due to the boisterous laughter from the delighted audience.
With generous helpings of reflections, interviews, past video moments like "Speakers Corner" and live concert performances, the diversity of this documentary is something of an allegory for the band itself. With a reputation for fantastic live improvisations on stage and proven musical talent, the Barenaked Ladies stand out as true entertainers committed to giving their best and keeping it fresh so that each performance holds something new for the audience.
My favourite moment came from a more serious side of the band with unexpected comical results. For the band's shooting of their video "It's All Been Done", we find the band behind the scenes discussing their discontent after seeing the initial footage. They thought the concept was fine, of shooting the film from a cat's point of view, but felt it was poorly shot and wasn't going to come across well. Talking to their manager, who seems more interested in quelling their sentiments of dissatisfaction then rectifying the matter or championing their concerns, we see them frustrated as an expensive video shoot seems like a waste of money. Ed mentions a terrible shot of little else than a shag carpet for too long a stretch until it finally reaches the band and looks up. "Cats don't walk like that. It's looks terrible." Their manager responds with "How do you know cats don't walk like that?" Ed responds almost angrily, "I have three cats, I know how they walk!" I don't think I laughed as hard as I did at that moment any other time in the film, but it's probably a had to be there moment.
With a subject matter like Barenaked Ladies, I'm sure the editors had their work cut out for them. They undoubtedly had enough material for a three hour film that wouldn't feature a dull moment. As it was, the breakneck pace of the film kept it fresh, entertaining and basically a treat for any fan of the band. Given the band's recent success in the American market, that probably accounts for a good number of people. Given its high quality but perhaps limited audience appeal, I wonder what sort of release this documentary will enjoy. In any case, I feel privileged to be among the few to have seen it, and look forward to an opportunity for a repeat viewing.
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