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Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace’s documentary “Meet Me in the Bathroom” Reviewed

The problem with the Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace documentary about the rock scene in New York in the early 00s, based upon Lizzy Goodman’s book, is that there is no there, there. As a survivor of punk, no wave, new wave and post punk, and indie in New York City since 1978, as scenes go the early 00s has no name for itself, it had no sound unique to itself, and it had exceedingly few bands. Brooklyn was not a sound.

Where precisely is the movement the two are coming to terms with? LCD Soundsystem, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and the Strokes does not a musical development make (and Brownies -a bitch to get to, is not CBGBs). And while James Murphy had five good years as LCD Soundsystem, musically it was over by 2010. Julian had one great and one good album and that was that, Paul Banks didn’t have that much, Yeah Yeah Yeahs had one great song (“Maps”), one good album and Karen O -half Korean, half American and stuck in a web of men not a million miles from where Debbie Harry found herself but without the necessary skill set or a Chris Stein to help her through it.

Dylan and Will made the previous LCD Soundsystem documentary “Shut Up And Play The Hits” (based upon their “final” performance at MSG in 2011 here) and it was a weirded out creepo of a show that would have been better served as just a filming of the performance, but with “Meet Me In The Bathroom” they make remarkable use of found footage: the film is made of archive, fan, and found footage only, which gives you a sense of immersion in over 20 years ago. But 1999 and 2000 NYC is not 2022 and is not 1979, it is a physically disinteresting not that far past, so people are not using cells yet, and AOL is a dial up, so what else is new?

On a black and white LES half alive scene, The Strokes arrived with a bang. Lead by songwriter and singer Julian Casablanca, the rich boy squatting crowd have a life that isn’t ours. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr and Julian met at a Swiss boarding school (the highly exclusive most expensive school in the world, Le Rosey) and the entire band’s lifestyle is as non-inclusive as a Whit Stillman movie. They got a Wednesday night residency at Mercury Lounge and word of mouth found em.

Needless to add this absolutely amounts to overkill rewards and that Julian isn’t just close to his bandmates, but, as pieced together here, is also a boy with perpetual nervousness: his parents divorced when Julian was young and he barely saw his father, Johnny Casablanca. So not only is he a fuck up, he is also adrift and that driftiness is part of Julian’s charm: in a position where massive ego comes with the job description, there is something about him which doesn’t embrace it, anybody who saw The Strokes and the White Stripes at Radio City will know what I mean, Julian performed with a broken ankle sitting on a bar stool and still crushed Jack White. The directors detail his derailment after the sophomore album, the pretty good Room On Fire (which sold over $1.5M worth of product and includes the song that gave the documentary its name), Julian’s sadness is palpable.

Karen O is a study in not post-feminism, her treatment is disgraceful with professional photographers in the pitt trying to take pictures up her skirt. I wonder how they might if they saw film of Karen O alone and in tears.

Even in its own limited way, they get it a little wrong. Why all that stuff about fanboy Ryan Adams supplying Hammond with heroine and yet The Liars is barely mentioned? And with all due respect to the Moldy Peaches, The Strokes opening act, they don’t enter the story till they broke up and Kimya Dawson hit it real big with “Anyone Else But You”.

As Lizzy Goodman, a highly competent culture critic writing for the usual suspects, greatest skill is keeping the 2011 book in the indie pop firmament. It’s a good as well as difficult book, and Dylan and Souther do a fine of in piecing the cloth together for a nearly two hour trip backwards. There are some mistakes, why the “It Was A Very Good Year” – a Sinatra chestnut used for a montage, makes you wonder if they couldn’t find songs that fit from the time period, why even bother?

Having said all that, it is an enthralling rock documentary with a laser vision, it makes a strong case that this particularly New York scene excelled on stage and if the Strokes could’ve used even more film of their live movement, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and especially some film of LCD Soundsystem’s first live performance, are beyond revealing. And while there is no explanation of why Vampire Weekend were not included, and a refusal to appraise the audience (NYU kids, I bet), it is well worth seeing.

Meet Me In The Bathroom” had its premiere yesterday at the Sundance Festival.

Grade: B

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