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Retro Rental: If You Miss MCA, Rent This Beastie Boys Concert Film

Beastie Boys
ThinkFilm

[Each week, inspired by what's in theaters or in the news or even just by random firings of neurons, 'Retro Rental,' by film critic James Rocchi, looks at an older film on disc or download that links up to the here-and-now ...]

A friend of mine mailed me this morning, sharing a link to the supercut of every opening lyric performed by the late Adam Yauch, who died last week at 47, better known as MCA of The Beastie Boys. This friend of mine — known him for years — is, like me, a big music nerd, and noted “I can’t believe I’m still thinking about this; like I knew the guy or something.”

And no, this isn’t going to be yet another memoir about what MCA meant to me — too many of those — but I will note that Yauch’s passing does feel like the passing of someone we knew. In part, that’s because we’ve been lucky enough to have his work with us for so long, but it’s also because when the teenage MCA who bragged about going strapped became Adam Yauch the Buddhism-studying media mogul and activist, it wasn’t just growing up, it was growing up in public. Yauch vocally repudiated some of the things he’d said, and then said new things that showed his commitment to change and responsibility and, for lack of a better word, peace. And when you watch someone try to be a better person, yes, you feel like you know them.

Released in 2006, ‘Awesome; I F***in’ Shot That!’ was a Beastie Boys concert film — but considering how the Beastie Boys were never  standard-issue musicians, it follows that their concert film wouldn’t exactly follow the standard format, either. I saw ‘Awesome …’ at Sundance in 2006, and at the time, I wrote: “I guess the highest compliment you can pay ‘Awesome; I F***in’ Shot That!’ – a concert film made by distributing 50 cameras to fans at a Madison Square Gardens Beastie Boys show and aggregating the footage – is that when I walked out of the packed Sundance Film Festival press screening … I was amazed my clothes didn’t smell like weed and spilled beer.”

The film was directed by Yauch and while the concert lacks a couple of the bigger, earlier, dumber hits — “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” for example, is entirely absent — the sets, either the three Beasties (Yauch, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz) alone or accompanied by a full band on certain tracks, are amazing. And while the shooting style means both eyestrain and mindbend, there’s also great moments that capture more than just the concert’s songs but also get the concert’s moments– a whiz break, arguing with security about getting backstage, a snacks saleswoman joyously miming along with “Sabotage,” briefly liberated from her polyester outfit and wage-slavery.

‘Awesome …’ was the first release by Oscilliscope Labs, the film distributor Yauch founded. You can find our guide to the best Oscilliscope films here, but suffice it to say the company released some of the best, riskiest, strongest and strangest films out there. ‘Awesome …’ started all of that, and it’s a great snapshot of a band — and people — trying to make their crazy past work with where and who they are in the present while keeping one eye on the future, all made in a mix-and-match way that, oddly, still conveys the big picture.

When ‘Awesome’ played at Sundance, an executive at the film company that purchased it showed me, the morning after, that Yauch had sent around via e-mail, the opening bit from the review quoted above, with some brief words about how he felt it was a pretty cool summation of what he, as the film’s director, was going for.

And yeah, the part of me that used to chant “No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn” in my last year of high school with my friends or that hit the gas a little harder driving on the streets of San Francisco when ‘Sabotage’ came on felt a bit of a rush at that, before tamping it down and moving on to the next movie. As my friend observed in the e-mail that set all this off, it’s not like I knew Adam Yauch. But it’s fair to say I always knew I liked Adam Yauch, and that’s enough to make me want to put on his concert film and, for a few moments, trick myself into forgetting he’s gone by remembering all the things he did while he was here.

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