In the Maysles Brothers’s 1968 documentary, “Salesman”, Paul Brennan aka The Badger, is sitting in the living room of a potential customer trying to convince her to buy one of his Bible packages. He tries to make small talk with the woman’s little daughter, Christine, who, bored by it all gets away from her mother’s lap, walks over to an upright piano and plays (more likes jabs with her forefinger) a series of notes from high to low – dum…dum…dum…duummmmm. The camera stayed on the little girl while we hear, offscreen, the mother saying, “I just couldn’t afford it right now, we’re swamped with bills.” The camera cuts to a close-up of Paul’s disheartened face while Christine, now offscreen, completes the soundtrack to Paul’s life with dum…dum…dum-dum…dummm-dummmmmmmm!
If you are wondering what that reference has to do with guitars and the New York Guitar Festival, stay with me.
I don’t look at guitars as just an extension of a musician’s arms. To me, the guitar is also the witness to the various chapters that make up his/her life. Whether writing a song on the guitar, strumming a few chords by the camp fire, or improvising to their heart’s content at a club, not only does that moment reflect what the musician is feeling inside, but it lets anyone who’s listening get a glimpse inside that person’s soul. Tell me you don’t feel what BB King is feeling when he bends that note just the way it needs to be, at the moment he wants it to; a single note that has decoded the whole soundtrack to B.B.’s life. You better believe it.
I’ve always loved telling stories through film and photography. With Guitarkadia, I’ve matched them with my love for the guitar. Have guitar, will story. What would they have to say if guitars could talk? Plenty, I assume. Can you tell what a person is like by looking at his/her guitar? Or by the way (s)he picks up the guitar? The tagline to my blog is “Stories Around Guitars” and that’s exactly what I search for when I embark on a story. Sometimes I have an idea how I’d approach a story and sometimes I’ll let one step lead me to another.
Enter the New York Guitar Festival. I’ve always liked the way it has been curated and suspect guitar is just an excuse David [Spelman, co-founder of the festival] uses to bring together some of the most interesting musicians from around the world into one place. I set my sights on the “Unsilent Films/Live Guitars” this year to make a short documentary on. You can imagine how exciting seeing musicians of different styles and backgrounds bringing their voices to the works of Buster Keaton would be for me. The fabric may have come from different parts of the world, but they would all be making the same cloak. Thankfully, David got where I was coming from and I was invited to the party.
“Chasing Buster Keaton” is a work in progress. What you’re about to see is a selection of moments taken from the two days I shot backstage and on stage at Merkin Hall. The final film wants to be something beyond just these moments. I want that too. Few filmmakers will share footage at an early stage of production but this feels like I’m inviting you to see the first steps of my journey into the making of a film. Not knowing what it will end up being is probably the best thing for the film. Like I said before: have guitar, will story.
When David invited me to film backstage at “Bell’ Italia” I had no idea what I’d experience or make a film about. But there was only one way I could find out – be there. This was another opportunity to see musicians from around the world come together and play. Chances are no one will see them together in the same room again. What you see below is a preview of moments captured throughout the day. If you’ve never been backstage at a concert like this, this will quench that thirst just a little. I have some ways to go before finishing this short film but in the meantime, check out this preview.
Then there was the Apollo Project which opened the festival on January 6th at the Winter Garden aka World Financial Center. Musicians like Larry Campbell, Mike Gordon, itsnotyouitsme, Sara Lipstate, Jeff Parker, and David Torn were commissioned to re-imagine Brian Eno’s “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks” and perform it live while clips from filmmaker Craig Teper’s documentary, “Man In The Right Seat” were projected. I was invited to the rehearsals and also had the opportunity to follow them to a taping of John Schaefer’s “New Sounds” show at WNYC. The final version of this project will be an audio slideshow.
I do hope you enjoy the above previews. I’ve certainly enjoyed being a part of each of these projects. If you like to see more guitar stories, follow this link. If you’d like to keep posted on these and several other stories in the works, please subscribe to Guitarkadia here.
If any of this has inspired you to pick up the guitar for the first time, or the umpteenth time, it’ll be marked in my book as a success. Writing this post for NYGF has been an honor.
Emon Hassan is a filmmaker & photographer based in New York City. He’s the proud owner of three guitars, a DSLR camera, and notebooks filled with ideas for stories. Besides writing and managing Guitarkadia, Emon is the creator of the supernatural/mystery web series, The Third. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter. Or just email him at firstname.lastname@example.org