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Green Day’s documentary ¡Cuatro! screened at Los Angeles’ Sonos Studio on Wednesday, a month after it premiered at South by Southwest and one night before the band headlined the nearby 16,000-seater Sports Arena.
Indeed, Green Day may be one of the biggest rock bands in the world, but in this intimate, 90-minute look at how the three-album collection ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! came together, the punk trio went back to its roots: playing clubs and hunkering down in a multitude of studios, where singer Billie Joe Armstrong mined through some 65 songs.
You could say the creators of ¡Cuatro! didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves into when the project started as none of the new material had been written before filming officially began. “At one point it’s like, how are we going to fit all of this onto one record, let’s do two, and then let’s do three, and that’s really what happened, and everybody ran with it,” director Tim Wheeler said of the band’s seemingly endless inspiration during a Q&A moderated by The Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin.
The idea for a documentary came after recording began and thanks in large part to cinematographers Chris Dugan and Greg Schneider, who knew the band previously and had been shooting preproduction. Green Day then decided to turn that footage into a film.
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Said Wheeler: “They wanted to show this moment in time, they wanted to show what it’s like for them to make a record, they wanted to show how they interact, what their creative process is like” — all elements of the Green Day lore that fans had yet to see without filter.
“They reached out to us because Tim Lynch, the producer, did Bullet and the Bible [the DVD companion to American Idiot], and we also do a lot of surf films, and so they were really attracted to the idea of doing something that was more of a surf film-style rock documentary. They wanted something unconventional, spontaneous, fun and lifestyle-driven,” he added.
While the doc kicks off with crisp, high-def footage that was shot digitally, as you follow the band’s story, the film formats change, with certain scenes appearing as if they were shot with a Camcorder camera from the 1980s, others captured in black and white or grainy 16mm.
This technique of switching between digital and film, and all of the added effects, gives each scene a different vibe. Explained cinematographer Alex Kopps: “Some of it is period, like there’s a story about them being on acid, which was shot on VHS, which is what they would have had then, and then some of it was more feeling based, like some of it was shot on Super 8.”
The creative team had more than 300 hours of footage with which to work, giving them plenty of options to form a visual narrative.
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Although mostly focused on the recording process, ¡Cuatro! also gives viewers a peek into the personal lives of the bandmembers, which now also includes guitarist Jason White, who toured with Green Day for 13 years before being added as an official member. In one especially touching scene, bassist Mike Dirnt is shown apologizing to his two young children as he leaves for a gig, in essence explaining to his kids that he has to make them, his loved ones, miserable so that he can make a room full of strangers happy. In one of the final scenes of the film, Armstrong is shown in a bare New York City room alone with his cat, explaining via voiceover that being a rock star isn’t always about parties and women.
Worth noting: All of the footage was shot before Armstrong entered rehab in September. In fact, the first finished cut of the film was presented to the band on the day of the Las Vegas iHeartRadio concert, where Armstrong flew off the handle, in part prompting his rehab stint.
With that in mind, it’s surprising to see that the Armstrong in the movie seems to be someone who has his act together. That may be thanks to the easy rapport all the creatives had with one another as they brought the project to fruition. As Wheeler explained, “When we were there, we would get certain moments that were probably more true because they didn’t think about it.”
While the film has so far only been available to fans who purchase the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tre! box set, Wheeler assured fans that a proper release are forthcoming. As with everything Green Day, they work at their own pace but with a plan in mind.
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