The captivating new Asaf Avidan rockumantary, Final Stages, is in many ways a lesson in how not to be a rock star.
From The Churchills to Dana International, global rock and roll success has long been the primary goal of Israel’s most ambitious entertainers. And it can be argued that today’s generation of local rockers has positioned itself to open more international doors than any prior generation. Acts like Izabo, Kutiman, Rockfour, Balkan Beat Box, Orphaned Land, Boom Pam and Infected Mushroom have gigged and released recordings internationally by presenting themselves as rogue DIY alternatives to the product put out by the mainstream music industry.
Last month’s Jerusalem Music Conference, which featured performances by 40 Israeli bands – and panelists from Europe and the rest of the world’s top festivals, labels and publications – served to highlight the local scene’s burning hunger to break.
Absent from the conference was Jerusalem’s own Asaf Avidan, a singer-songwriter whose studio output and reputedly white-hot shows with backing band The Mojos yielded a Sony-backed three-year tour around the homeland, North America, Europe and Asia. Landmark gigs included England’s legendary Latitude fest, the 2010 Cannes Film Festival closing ceremonies and a pair of German TV appearances.
Avidan has opened for the likes of Lou Reed, Robert Plant and Bob Dylan. Now 32, his Jerusalem childhood was interrupted by four years spent in Jamaica, where his parents were sent as Israeli diplomats. His professional career started off with jobs in animation for moving pictures, but he pivoted approximately seven years ago, after reconnecting to his affinity for singing and playing the guitar.
Filmmaker Ori Bahat, who today serves as Avidan’s manager, was driven to create an Israeli rockumentary as a post-art school project, eventually finding himself with a hand-held camera and all-access passes on tour with Asaf Avidan and the Mojos for 300 shows in 15 countries. The culmination of this endeavor, Final Stages premiered on the big screen before its DVD release earlier this summer.
Bahat has told the press that he was aiming for a raw, no-frills approach, presenting a story primarily told via concert footage. In this sense, the movie is a resounding success.
Bahat found himself drawn towards black-and-white music movie models like the 1991 Red Hot Chili Peppers document Funky Monks and the classic 1967 D.A. Pennebaker film Don’t Look Back, which followed Bob Dylan across England.
Final Stages features some intimate moments, and even some thought-provoking monologues about the natures of art, collaboration and commerce (all in English), but the real star of the movie is Avidan’s distinctive and odd singing voice. While it can be a bit jarring to constantly remind one’s self that no, the man on screen is not parodying Janis Joplin’s vocal qualities, there’s no denying that he’s brimming with creative prowess and true talent.
And the band is super tight. The roots rock and party rock jams pulse with energy and road-carved chops. But the inspiration of Asaf Avidan’s songwriting does feel bigger than its ensemble context.
Bahat’s central theme is the Sisyphean burden of the rock star’s ambition, and as a result, the strict concert movie concept seems to have become refracted along the editing process. This isn’t a movie about a band’s breakup, yet Final Stages is weighed down by the knowledge that Avidan went solo shortly after production ended. This event is alluded to in the movie’s moniker, in its opening title sequence, in the closing titles, in Avidan’s telling the camera that he feels the band has run its course, and in the timing of the movie’s release. Final Stages found its way to record shop shelves just weeks before Avidan’s new solo effort Different Pulses drops, along with a 12-show European tour already scheduled for November.
- Asaf Avidan & the Mojos – courtesy Noa Magger