Directed by Scott Crary (2004)
Kill Your Idols is a documentary on the alternative music scenes in New York City. It is divided into the late 70s/early 80s “No Wave” scene and the early 00s. While providing great footage of No Wave performances and describing their aesthetic, many of the interviews with the artists make them sound like crabby grandparents who don’t like what the kids are up to these days. That said, the next generation doesn’t have much better representation.
I was really surprised when Kill Your Idols split into its second half. It introduces numerous bands that are supposed to represent the contemporary music scene in New York City, but there’s no justification for why these bands are important out of the hundreds and thousands that exist in the area. And if part of the film’s point was that there used to be this coherent scene and now there isn’t, why do they skip forward twenty years to make that point? Why even focus on New York, when many of the No Wave interviewees define themselves by how different they sound from any of their fellow contemporaries?
That said, it’s relative nitpicking on my part to latch onto the lack of cohesion within the documentary. The more important theme stems from the desire to create art rather than searching for fame and notoriety, although that’s where a lot of the bellyaching from the earlier generation stems from. I think the No Wave scene is either overlooked in music history or it’s grouped in with punk music, but it seems to have evolved from people who just wanted to be onstage doing something rather than perform as artists, until it developed a little bit and attracted art students. It seems like defining what they performed as art only came in retrospect, after the accolades had filtered down.
The shift to the 2002-era does address the fact that a lot of the musicians are looking back on the No Wave bands, but also that they are more aware of their status as bands and as performers. The interviews with Eugene Hutz, of Gogol Bordello, perhaps best illustrate the reflective qualities when they’re used well, but in contrast there are a lot of interviews that seem more focused on getting blow jobs from groupies.
Kill Your Idols is an especially interesting documentary to watch in an age with no major musical trajectory, but with many niches available for a diverse audience. It succeeds best at selling the past back to the audience rather than give any clear criticisms towards contemporary musicians, but it remains entertaining to the last minute.