INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Wire JUNE 2011 - by Michael Bracewell
BRIAN ENO 1971-1977: THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
Few figures in contemporary culture could be more deserving of a two-and-a-half-hour documentary than Brian Eno. Generationally, his activities connect distinct epochs, from the art school radicalism of the 1960s, through the capacities of the avant garde within rock music, to the integration of self-generative audio-visual arts into mass personal technology. As an artist, musician, inventor and ideologue, Eno can lay more claim than most to having been a futurologist in the classic lineage of Bill McHale or Marshall McLuhan. He is at root more maverick than those venerable precursors, but he shares their ability to look sideways through the present and make astute imaginings about the flow and interruption of ideas.
With regard to his involvement in pop and rock music, Eno's ability to transpose not just the practice but the ideology of experimentation into the front line of a notoriously conservative industry remains without doubt unique. This new documentary recounts Eno's brief involvement with Roxy Music and the beginnings of his career as both a solo recording artist and as a kind of practitioner-philosopher-guru to both contemporary composers and other rock musicians - most notably David Bowie, during the latter half of the 1970s, when the latter was working in Berlin on his albums Low and "Heroes".
This well paced film follows a close chronological line, giving a good impression of both the scope of Eno's interests and their significance within their contemporary context. We are guided through the importance of his contributions to Roxy Music, the many stranded reasons for his departure from both Roxy and the rock mainstream, his return to the avant garde and his subsequent dual identity (which remains to this day) as both a glamorous pop superstar and an unbounded conceptual thinker.
There are several fondly nostalgic reminiscences from musicians who worked briefly on some of Eno's recordings during the middle years of the 1970s, and biographical narrative from writers Johnny Rogan and David Sheppard. But the absence of the man himself, his principal collaborators and witness-participants of his many and varied projects, swiftly hampers any in-depth understanding of Eno's complex (and at times not so complex) engagement with both the musical culture and artistic trends of the period in question. Eno's unique creativity has been empowered, since his days as an art student, by the animating nature of his relationship with his artistic co-workers. There is likewise a profound and liberating streak of contrariness in Eno's artistic temperament - a refusal to do what is expected, and a delight in reversing the obvious.
What appears to be lacking, therefore, from this otherwise well-intentioned and informative documentary - the tone of which is never far from adulatory - is the sheer vastness and intensity of the personalities, egos and ideas of most of these key players: those qualities, in fact, which have rendered their works and their mythologies so enduringly and inspirationally modern.