“Spinal Tap” just about ruined it. Ever since Rob Reiner’s epochal smash mockumentary about the titular past-their prime rock band burst into the consciousnesses of aging rock fans everywhere, any legitimate documentary about any real life artist must first navigate the “snicker factor” before its audience can begin to take the film seriously.
Not surprisingly, then, it takes a few minutes and a few vintage black and white, badly lip-synced clips from old and obscure BBC programs to pass by, before audiences can settle into the well-produced documentary that is “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.” Such is the hurdle director Stephen Kijat largely clears with this respectful, slightly fawning retrospective on the enigmatic, nearly forgotten 1960s pop star-turned-rock experimentalist, Scott Walker.
The film “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” serves two purposes. On the one hand, it serves as an homage and relatively clear-headed look at a tumultuous recording and performing career that has lasted for nearly half a century. Kijak provided a pile of vintage clips, photos and memorabilia which, once those aforementioned “Spinal Tap” snickers clear up, offer a comprehensive look back at Walker’s career.
Kijak covers a huge time span here, starting with Walker’s days as a golden-throated warbler with the popular 1960s pop band and next-big-thing-that wasn’t, “The Walker Brothers,” to his spotty solo career, years of self-imposed isolation, and on through his occasional returns to the limelight. More significantly, however, the film introduces Walker to a brand new audience. (It’s probably no coincidence that “…30 Century…” comes out hot on the heels of “The Drift,” Walker’s first new album in about a decade.)
In addition to the film’s archival footage, Kijak gains access to his fiercely private subject and gets him to discuss his career with startling candor. There are also the obligatory kudos from famous folks, such as the film’s Executive Producer David Bowie, members of Radiohead, Brian Eno and the like, who provide testimony as to Walker’s largely unrecognized contributions and musical genius.
What these industry insiders focus on the most, however, is Walker’s utterly unconventional sound – picture and even more ethereal and haunting Jeff Buckley – and a willingness to take creative chances that’s all too rare in the entertainment industry today.
Considering the abstract nature of its subject, “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is a surprisingly straightforward look at a man who’s been at the cutting edge of music’s avant garde for decades. Perversely, this works. For it’s precisely by bringing this largely unapproachable, difficult to describe character and his work back to the level that even “Spinal Tap” fans can understand, that “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” reintroduces the artist to the world.