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A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky
A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky
Actors: Joey Baron, Greg Cohen, Dave Douglas, Fred Frith, Ikue Mori
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
NR     2004     1hr 22min


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Movie Details

Actors: Joey Baron, Greg Cohen, Dave Douglas, Fred Frith, Ikue Mori
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Pop, International, Classical, Biography, History
Studio: TZADIK
Format: DVD - Color,Letterboxed,Enhanced
DVD Release Date: 04/27/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 22min
Screens: Color,Letterboxed,Enhanced
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

Movie Reviews

Pick up the pieces and move on...
Sound/Word Enthusiast | Rhode Island, USA | 10/04/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)

"...I gotta say, I came into this one with high hopes. Zorn, one of the most relentlessly documented musicians of our time, really deserves a great documentary film: something to explore his methods, collaborations, and underlying philosophies. This ain't it. The film-maker insists on inserting herself and her own ho-hum Euro-art-student self-discovery tale into the mix, which adds nothing. What emerges is exceedingly frustrating: there's tons of great footage, and much insight from Mr. Zorn, yet these great moments are dangled like the proverbial carrot. Just when you think you're getting an extended performance or interview, it cuts to the film-maker deciding how best she should edit, or rattling off another numbingly bland tale of her "friendship" with Zorn. It's a tremendous shame, as she actually has years worth of interesting footage...ever wonder why the great documentarians prefer to manifest themselves in the editting and narrative of a documentary, rather than as a physical presence??? This tipid tome is the answer. I gave it two more stars than it deserves because Zorn is brilliant, and you catch fleeting glimpses of that genius behind the film-maker's amateurish, to all you folks who think you can make a good Zorn documentary, GO FOR IT. It definitely hasn't been done yet."
Not what anyone wanted, and yet of it's own.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 08/09/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Claudia Heuermann's "A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky: Twelve Stories About John Zorn" is not quite what it seems. Expectations ran high, a documentary about John Zorn, the man who rarely grants interviews and when he does, seems to say everything and not say anything at all, whose music jumps genre to genre in a matter of seconds, captivates some, horrifies others, and has a strange sway over its fan.

What Heuermann did though was quite a bit different-- she told the story about her trying to make the movie, about her relationship with Zorn, from the moment she first discovered him (a friend playing her Naked City's "Torture Garden") to her meeting him for the first time, travelling to New York and deciding to make a movie about Zorn. It's really a piece abuot self-discovery, about learning to be one's "own parent".

Along the way, we get snippets of interviews with Zorn, brilliant statements, footage of rehearsals, recording sessions, remastering of "The Big Gundown" and live performances from Naked City, Painkiller, Masada, Bar Kokhba, Emergency, and "Rituals". We also get a brief explanation of game pieces and a picture of a frustrated artist who can't stop looking, who views music as problem solving, and who does it not for listeners, but for himself and the musicians.

This is the second time I've watched this-- the first time was when it first came out, and I was still in the process of discovering Zorn's work through a chance encounter at an independent movie theater (Naked City was the house music before the show, and somehow I knew who it was). Three months and a dozen or so Zorn CDs later and this came out to guide my way, to help put the pieces together.

A year after that and my Zorn collection is bordering on obscene and the piece still holds weight. It still is entertaining, and yeah, its not a lot of revelatory stuff, but it's a worthwhile viewing. Truth to be told, in many ways, the piece gave validity to my own view on my choice of career and my great passions. And I keep thinking that maybe when my coworkers ask why I'm making the four hour trip to New York City yet again to see some obscure musician who they've never heard of (and who if they did hear, they'd probably dislike), maybe in those situations I should let them borrow this and certainly Heuermann's experience isn't really that much different from mine. Isn't that powerful enough to merit a recommendation to someone else?

If you're just learning about Zorn, get this, it's critical. If you're already initiated, you probably already have it. It's got its flaw, but invariably, it's a deeply personal expression, how could it not? Either way, it's a fun film to watch. Recommended."
Interesting In Spite Of Itself
Randall Peterson | Austin,TX USA | 06/07/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"If you like John Zorn and, like me, are also really into several of his usual cohorts (John Medeski, Marc Ribot, Chris Speed, Arto Lindsay, etc.), this "John Zorn documentary" is interesting enough just to see the momentary clips of rehearsal and performance footage, and Zorn's outlook on music composition, performance, recording, sound, etc. But the documentary is almost as much about the filmmaker as it is Zorn... which is where it falls way short. While the affect Zorn has had on filmmaker's life and work is mildly interesting, it's more than a little distracting that she felt it necessary to include herself in so much of it, especially when the film is ostensibly supposed to be about Zorn. My opinion is she could have done herself a much better turn and had a much better product if she would have concentrated more on Zorn rehearsal/performance footage, and kept herself more in the background. The way it is, the film seems much more amateurish than it could have been. I would really love to see a Zorn (or Ribot... or Medeski) DVD with musician interviews, rehearsal, studio and performance footage only. This "Zorn documentary" just wets the appetite. 3 1/2 stars (would/could have been 5)."
Tediously self-indulgent...and not on the subject's part
Mr. Richard K. Weems | Fair Lawn, NJ USA | 09/28/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)

"I hesitate to call this film a documentary, for it seems to serve the mystique of John Zorn rather than circumvent it (or move through it) to examine the work of a man who has broke open a whole new way of composing music. Even more than serving the mystique (done through endless misses between the film maker and her subject matter and only brief glimpses of music being made), the film ultimately seems to serve the film maker to muse upon the process of creating films...but hardly in any way that provides insight.

There are interesting, brief glimpses into Zorn putting together a game piece performance, for example, but I came out of this feeling that I had been given some opportunity to glimpse some of the people behind the music, but no further understanding of the music or the artist behind the music than what I have devised through my own listening and through articles I've read talking about noise as well. Obviously, this film wants to examine the music more than the man, but I think it did it very poorly, with only brief peeks at Zorn's various styles and some interesting blurbs from Zorn himself, but more I felt that I just watched someone trying to make a documentary about Zorn and generally failed, so she decided to put herself in the movie to fill it out some.

A lost opportunity.