London Jazz Film Review: Junun, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, w/ Jonny Greenwood
(The Bertha Dochouse, showings until 2nd March. Film Review by Sorana Santos)
In a romantically conceived film that blurs the lines between documentary, music video, and ethnographic film, director Paul Thomas Anderson delicately frames Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s contribution to the realisation of Israeli composerShye Ben Tzur’s album with the Rajastan Express band, as they record his third album, Junun, in Mahrangargh, a stunning 15th century fort donated by the Maharaja of Jodhpur for the project.
Anderson’s deep respect for the creative process underpins Junun with a dignified impartiality of a true ethnographer, and while his awareness of the demands and potential of technology are finely tuned, he cares deeply about stories, about communication, and the urgent desires of being human. Junun sees him effortlessly sculpt an alternative approach to documenting music-making, creating intrigue via a gradual reveal of moments that place you at the heart of the creative process, subtle portrayals of daily life, micro-portraits of the musicians, and aerial panoramic landscapes shot using Radiohead producer and Junun engineer Nigel Godrich’s drone.
With creative dynamics and character profiles kept to a minimum, the driving rhythms and rousing melodic lines of Shye Ben Tzur’s devotional Sufi Qawwali’s, and the Rajasthan Express’ realisation of these works are given a rightful spotlight, with moving performances of heart-stopping intimacy between the musicians and their bandleader at the fore. Shye Ben Tzur’s combination of music and languages not usually performed together (Qawwali, Manganiar court music, and a Rajasthani brass band, sung in Uddu, Hebrew, and Hindi) is one of the keys to his work, and his selection of collaborators defines who he is and what can be achieved.
Jonny Greenwood’s contributions on guitar, bass, keyboards, ondes martenot, and programming, provide a balanced and complementary addition to the group, which is at once inimitably Greenwood yet supportive to the composer’s overall direction. This highlights Greenwood’s commendable intention to create a true collaboration with Ben Tzur from the outset, and enable him to realise his compositional goals.
Greenwood’s approach is a good fit to that of long-time collaborator Anderson, and together they form lasting creative, cultural, and personal takeaways from the carefully chosen impressions and subtle deliveries of their respective crafts, all-in-all showcasing the essential listening that is Junun’s music.