Junun (2015)

junun-2015-paul-thomas-anderson-01Junun documents the making of the album of the same name by Jonny Greenwood, Shye Ben Tzur and The Rajasthan Express. As far as documentaries go it’s a pretty laid-back affair, more akin to those you get on album bonus DVDs than a film in it’s own right. Still, this is an adventure that demands documentation.

The story goes that Greenwood decided to collaborate on an album with Tzur and producer Nigel Godrich in India and asked Paul Thomas Anderson if he fancied coming along for the ride to film the process. Already we have a superstar cast and crew list. Greenwood, Tzur, Godrich and Anderson are all extremely accomplished in their individual fields but the thing I like most about Junun is just how casual and simple the whole thing feels. This isn’t a P.T. Anderson picture, it’s a thumbnail.

The film is in love with the foreign locale and India’s culture. The country’s geography, language and flavour is front and centre, playing second fiddle only to the actual music. It begins with a call to prayer in which all the musicians sit respectfully at ease before proceeding into the first song. The lack of electricity at the studio – which is housed in a vast and ancient palace-like fort – is a re-ocurring subplot with the band sometimes only getting as little as 10 minutes of generated juice until they are out again. A standout scene features a carefree pigeon flying in during a recording session and Godrich trying to get rid of it with a mic-stand while the band continue playing undisturbed. It is moments like these which make the film worthwhile.

Junun is a pleasant fly-on-the-wall look at a creative process unfolding in a very unconventional environment with a refreshingly eclectic ensemble of creatives. As a fan of Greenwood and Paul Thomas Anderson obsessive and completist it was essential viewing for me but those names aside I still found it to be quite wonderful. I like that Anderson is being more productive and prolific by churning out these little idiosyncratic B-sides to his filmography. Junun is no doubt a minor work but is enjoyable as such. It feels like a home movie in the best sense and it’s refreshing to see Anderson experiment with more basic tools. I think this is the first thing he’s made that embraces digital technology. Perhaps most importantly though, the music at the centre of it all is fantastic. I found it to be so infectious that I bought the album on vinyl immediately after seeing it. If that isn’t a testament to the film’s success I don’t know what is. if you get the chance, don’t hesitate to check it out.

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