Director – Rob Roth – 2021 – US – 18m
Watch an incredible collision of cultures as new wave band Blondie tours Havana – from Sheffield DocFest 2021
Shot in several aspect ratios by multimedia artist and Blondie collaborator Roth (Doom Or Destiny music video, cert. 18, 2017; creative director on lead singer Debbie Harry’s memoir Face It, 2019), this is a vibrant, visual account of the band’s March 2019 tour of Havana. There are clips from songs recorded at several gigs here (with Harry sporting a variety of striking outfits) that make you wish you’d been there. For some songs, the band’s sound is augmented by Cuban musicians giving the likes of The Tide Is High a completely new lease of life.
Rather than going the obvious route and simply producing a film of the concerts – which I’m sure would be well-received by the band’s admirers, among whom I number myself – Roth has mashed the digitally produced concert footage up with Super 8 and 16mm footage of both Havana itself and members of the band.
He’s also had a lot of fun augmenting numerous live action shots with 2D animation drawn directly onto the moving images adding another layer to the already complex imagery. The technique could easily have been an indulgent embarrassment but in Roth’s hands it adds further visual excitement to an already arresting piece.
Whilst Harry (vocals) and Clem Burke (drums) are both featured in the gigs, sadly Chris Stein (guitar) was unable to accompany them on the tour for medical reasons. Roth manages to incorporate footage of Stein recuperating alone in New York alongside Harry driving around Havana and Burke chilling out.
There are three sections: Water, Fire and Air. Water sees Harry rave about the musicians on the tour, ascribing their high calibre to the Cuban educational system with its emphasis on music and art while Stein talks about the constant presence of Cuban music in New York and how he’s wanted to visit the place for 40 years. Burke reflects that people there seem very happy and open to the beauty of nature.
In Fire, Harry talks about the crumbling beauty of both Havana now and New York in the seventies. There’s a whole section of concert footage here where the colour red predominates.
The third section Air starts with images of billowing curtains and wind blowing through trees. Stein talks about dreams and premonitions, Harry reflects that he never plays a guitar solo the same way twice. On her travels round the world, she’s observed that music transcends a lot of political lines and “just sort of goes through the air”.
It’s a compelling collision of two cultures – Blondie’s energetic, late seventies new wave sound and style and Havana’s lively, Latin musical and visual sensibilities – and Roth is the perfect person to pull it all together. For those entranced by the music as played on the tour, a six-track EP will soon be available. This film, however, works perfectly well in its own right. The rapidly edited trailer is a pretty accurate summation of the whole piece.
Blondie: Vivir En La Habana plays in Sheffield DocFest 2021 which is taking place in both online and in Sheffield right now.
A six track, 12″ Blondie: Vivir En La Habana EP is out on 16th July.