Sunday, December 1, 2013

Jared Leto's ARTIFACT--about the tribulations of 30 Seconds to Mars--on VOD/digital via FilmBuff

A most interesting, if unintentional, follow-up to another good documentary about the music industry, Downloaded, the new doc titled ARTIFACT -- from Jared Leto (working under his directorial pseudonym of Bartholomew Cubbins) and about the band 30 Second to Mars, begun by Leto and his brother Shannon, together with their recruit Tomo Milicevic -- continues the necessary examination of the decline of the western world's foul music industry and why this seems both a sad and salutary ongoing event.

Mr. Cubbins (what an interesting pseudonym; it sounds like someone's Teddy Bear) aka Leto (shown at left) and his crew have put together an alternately poignant, angry, funny, depressing and hopeful video diary about the year or two during which their band was feuding big-time with their record label EMI (soon to be bought by a company called Terra Firma, and eventually becoming part of -- yikes! -- the world's leakiest umbrella corp, Citigroup), which then turned around and sued the band for millions of dollars, after which the band decided to record its own album and bid fuck you to its label.

But of course, this being the music business, nothing was quite as easy or intelligible or even vaguely straight ahead as either of the two parties might have wanted. Instead we get double- and triple-talk, along with people who don't seem all that sure of what they actually need or want, while at the same time music and song are being created -- not too much of which we hear, since this is going to be the band's new album, after all, and nobody wants to give anything away for free.

Giving music away for free -- however unintentionally -- as we learned from Downloaded, helped usher in the abrupt semi-demise of the music industry. The Leto bros (above, with Jared at right and Shannon center) and Milicevic (above, left) are too smart for that, but they do seem to dawdle a bit in coming to terms with what they actually want to do. The documentary dawdles a bit, too, becoming repetitive and meandering. At 105 minutes it could have been cut down some -- though heavy-duty fans of Leto and his group will probably not mind the extra minutes.

Along the way we get some history of the Leto family, with appropriate archival footage. And though Jared has his own acting career (which, to my mind, eclipses anything he's done musically), the movie concentrates solely on his and his band-mates' work on the new album.

From the outset it is clear that the record company has the wherewithal to carry on the fight indefinitely, so this "pissing contest," as someone calls it, between band and label does not bode well for the little guys. Still, there is always the possibility of leaving the label and going DIY. Yet that pesky and expensive lawsuit just keeps on, with EMI stalling and changing its mind at every pass and impass.

One of the most interesting sections of the film is the series of charts that shows what a typical "hit" album actually pays out to the label and to its musicians: How the label uses all kinds of shoddy tactics to increase its take and leave the musicians actually owing money. This is exemplary stuff. By the time we hear about the new "360 deal" and what this means to musicians, I should think that few viewers who began the film with an idea of someday signing a record deal will still have those particular stars in their eyes.

Eventually Guy Hands, the man behind Terra Firma is shown up to be all thumbs, and when, at the film's conclusion, Leto asks the audience at a concert how many of them possess the new This is War album, almost all the hands go up. When he then asks how many of those present stole the album off the internet, well, the next show of hands speaks volumes. You might think of Artifact as but the latest bulletin in the continuing war between art and commerce.

The documentary, from the fine and knowledgeable movie-curating hand of FilmBuff, will make its debut across all leading VOD platforms on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. The film can also be pre-ordered now via iTunes.

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