The trouble with most concert films is that, at bottom, they're neither.
They don't work as movies because there's no plot, little action and hardly anything in the way of character. Unless, of course, the director has tried to splice some in, in which case you're left with something looking like a music video gone horribly wrong.
At the same time, they're not much use as concerts, either. For one thing, they're rarely loud enough (if they were, they'd drown out the Jean-Claude Van Damme flick two theaters over). For another, the camera always seem to focus on the wrong thing, like zooming in on a guitarist's grimacing face when his fingers are where the action is.
Therefore, it's easy to see why some people might consider the Cure's new concert film a complete waste of time. After all, there's not much show to "Show" -- just five guys, a couple of guitars and a whole mess of colored lights.
So how come I had so much fun watching it?
In part because the playing is terrific. Filmed last year at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, "Show" finds the band at its moody best, moving easily from the dark, swirling atmospherics of "High" to the tuneful exuberance of "Friday I'm in Love." Even better, the set list -- though clearly emphasizing songs from "Wish," the band's last album -- is comfortably padded with old favorites like "Just Like Heaven," "Let's Go to Bed" and "The Walk."
But what really makes "Show" worth watching is the presentation. With eight cameras at his disposal, director Aubrey Powell manages to maintain a sense of motion even when the band just stands there. And while that does get annoying at points (there are only so many ways to pan across the stage, after all), at its best it brings a whole new dimension to the music, as in "Cut," where the dizzying camera work during Porl Thompson's guitar solo perfectly compliments the swirl of sound he produces.
Then there's front man Robert Smith. Although the music press tends to paint him as a dour depressive -- one English paper dubbed him "The Pope of Mope" -- his stage presence in "Show" is nothing less than charming.
It helps, of course, that Smith, with his untamed hair, untucked shirt and oversized shoes, is the embodiment of goth-rock cute; give him saucer eyes, and it's easy to imagine him as a Margaret Keane painting. But there's also an impressive degree of animation to Smith's performance, from the hand gestures he uses to amplify the lyrics in "Lullaby" to the nervous energy he pours into his bass solo on "Fascination Street."
Granted, "Show" does seem to assume that its viewers either already adore the Cure or are eager to be converted, meaning that skeptics in the crowd may find themselves wishing they'd rented a video instead. For fans, however, it's as close to perfect as a concert film is likely to get.
Starring the Cure
Directed by Aubrey Powell with Leroy Bennett
L Released by Fiction Films in association with Polygram Video