Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film: Film Review

Strictly for the fans.

Hanly Banks' documentary chronicles a two-week nationwide tour undertaken by the acclaimed singer-songwriter.

Feeling more like an extended music video than a fleshed-out concert movie, Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film is as enigmatic as its titular subject. Following the acclaimed singer-songwriter, who’s also recorded under the moniker Smog, for two weeks during a nationwide tour promoting his 2011 release Apocalypse, Hanly Banks’ documentary delivers a series of powerful musical performances punctuated by scenes of life on the road.

Beginning with a segment featuring a deadpan Callahan quoting lines from a New York Times profile of him, the brief film features stirring concert renditions of such songs as “America!” and “Riding for the Feeling” as performed by the singer accompanied by guitarist Matt Kinsey and drummer Neal Morgan. Looking dapper in a seersucker suit, Callahan delivers his vocals in a sonorous baritone, investing the often elliptical lyrics with fierce conviction.

Unfortunately, the director intercuts these sequences with banal montages often composed of fleeting landscapes as seen through a moving vehicle’s window. Other songs are accompanied by scenes of small towns and their inhabitants that feel like a patriotic television commercial, complete with fireworks.  

The notoriously press-shy performer delivers a running commentary throughout, but his comments, including “Movement is life,” “Symbols are everything,” and “When I’m performing live it’s really just the realest me that there is,” aren’t exactly revelatory.

One of the more evocative segments depicts Callahan attempting to free a baby goat that’s gotten trapped in a fence. Later, during the end credits he’s seen serenading an entire herd of the animals, who respond with unsurprising indifference. The fact that the singer looks just as happy performing for them as for his adoring fans somehow speaks volumes.

Director/editor: Hanly Banks
Producers: Andrew Goldman, Opiyo Okeyo
Directors of photography: Hanly Banks, Smokey Nelson

No rating, 65 minutes  

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