On Tour: A
Documentary, recently released by Caldo Verde, is a moody meditation in black
and white upon the artist-on-the-road.
By Lee Zimmerman
It’s noted on the back cover of this DVD that Mark Kozelek
— he of the Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon and his own somber solo efforts
— is “an artist often thought of as taciturn.” Really? Ya think? Given his
penchant for brooding melancholia and low-cast meanderings, that statement is
as much an understatement as suggesting things aren’t exactly peachy in the
Notably, there’s little here that discredits that notion,
owing to the fact that this two-hour travelogue – which candidly captures
Kozelek on the road, in hotel rooms, at the airport, in sound checks and even
occasionally onstage – is shot exclusively in black and white, allowing
darkness to supercede the light. (View the trailer here.) Although some of the
locales, particularly in Europe, are incredibly spectacular, there’s a shadowy,
overcast feel to the proceedings, one that remains unbroken throughout the
mostly solitary, unspoken scenes of Kozelek surveying his surroundings,
attending to his belongings or simply playing his guitar. In fact, the film
only affirms what one might sense after being immersed in Kozelek’s music (his
songs become constant companions to whatever’s happening onscreen, whether he’s
performing or not)… that he’s as moody and morose as his albums almost always
suggest. At one point, he explains his dark demeanor is the result of jetlag
and drastic time differences encountered when traveling from one part of the
world to another. “Most of the time, I feel so out of it,” he wearily concedes.
Whether or not that’s the true cause for his deadpan
disposition is up for grabs, but clearly Kozelek’s sad, surreal melodies
suggest that he bears certain preoccupations he excises only thorough his art.
Despite the beauty his songs convey – and indeed, they are ideal as meditative
musings – and even his occasional fits of laughter, the loneliness and longing
that comes through this often scattershot montage of settings and scenarios
portrays the isolation that Paul Simon once sang of so eloquently in songs like
“The Boxer” and “Homeward Bound.” The series of numbing images convey what
appears to be an endless commitment to the road, from one destination to the
next, each place seemingly the same as the last, life as an ongoing series of
airplanes, highways, hotels and venues.
At one point, Kozelek marvels at the apparent elegance of
his hotel room, with its sparkling marble floors and a bidet he’s not quite
used to, claiming that he mistakenly peed into it in the middle of the night.
Surprisingly, that offhand comment, as slight as it may seem, is actually the
main revelation this film actually offers. And sadly, that’s an incidental