11.01.85 THE SAN DIEGO-UNION-TRIBUNE
The following article by Maria Puente appeared in a November 1985 issue of The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper...
Bring on the new Sting...
"The brim of my hat hides the eyes of a beast/I've the face of a sinner but the hands of a priest/Oh you'll never see my shade or hear the sound of my feet/While there's a Moon Over Bourbon Street."
- Words and music by Sting
It was hard to tell whether there was a moon over Bourbon Street the night Sting and his band hit town, what with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Juan and his vanguard of attendant clouds.
But you could still hear and see Sting, and he was more than just a shade. Over the course of a few days, he strolled through the heart of the French Quarter, danced around a concert stage, jovially jousted with reporters in interviews, tumbled through a soccer game at a local field and cavorted on the silver screen.
But wait. Was this the Sting, aka Gordon Matthew Sumner, sometime movie star, full-time pop star and the voice, songwriter and bass player for The Police, one of the most successful of contemporary rock bands?
Well, yes and no. Actually, what we have here is a new Sting, with a new band, a new jazz-tinged sound, a new movie, even a new instrument - a guitar. "They call me B.B. Sting now," he said.
Sting joking? Was this the same fellow famous for his serious and icy demeanour, the schoolteacher-turned-cerebral sex symbol with supreme - even arrogant - self-confidence?
Yes, folks, it's true. Sting has finally lightened up - the iceman melteth. And you can see it for yourself tonight when Sting's new film, 'Bring On the Night', opens at San Diego area theaters.
Only this time, he's not playing the Devil ('Brimstone and Treacle'), or some campy villain in a space diaper ('Dune') or even a melancholy Dr. Frankenstein ('The Bride'). This time he's playing himself, as he and his new band of six American jazz musicians struggle through the agonies of coming together as musical strangers, hoping to end up as a cohesive unit. on-camera birth of a baby the most exciting part."
Given the fact that the $3 million movie was produced by A&M Films, a division of the record company that handles Sting's albums, the initial temptation is to dismiss this as an expensive self-indulgence, the product of a record company's attempts to keep its big star happy. But it turns out that 'Bring On the Night' can stand on its own merits.
Director Michael Apted, who is highly regarded in England for his fascinating documentaries, said he didn't want to merely copy the classic music films, such as 'Talking Heads' and 'The Last Waltz'.
"This is the first film about the process, about how the music is created and how a band gets to the stage," said Apted, who directed 'Coal Miner's Daughter'. "And it's a character study. I didn't want to do just a concert film - I wanted to know about the people in a band."
The film was shot over nine frantic days in May in an ornate Napolean III chateau outside Paris, where Sting and the band, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, drummer Omar Hakim, bassist Darryl Jones, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and singers Dolette McDonald and Janice Pendarvis, prepared for their first live concert together in Paris.
Sting had hired them in January, after issuing an open invitation to the American jazz community to jam with him at a workshop he set up in New York. Some of the biggest names in jazz showed up, wanting to play his material, and Sting, who started out his career playing in jazz bands, was thrilled.
"The way we related to each other seemed right, and then one morning I had a whim. Wouldn't it be a great idea to do a film about starting a new band," Sting said. "But it became a reality very quickly. Before I could tell everyone it was just a joke, there were 120 people around us and we were spending all this money - somebody else's money. And I felt responsible, which is why I look so worried in the first part of the film."
By the end of the 97-minute film, the musicians have managed to create a tightly honed ensemble with a new sound that combines jazz, reggae, calypso, pop and rock 'n' roll.
It is the music of Sting's first solo album, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', which was released in June and is currently among the top 10 best-selling albums in the nation. Although the band had played together on the earlier-recorded album, the mechanical nature of recording is far different than the dynamics of playing together live. In addition, the musicians had to rearrange some material and learn a few old Police tunes.
Sting and the band got their first look at the finished product at a screening for the press late last month in New Orleans, where the band was scheduled to play during its current tour of the US. As the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans was an appropriate place to screen a film in which jazz and jazz musicians play such strong roles. Moreover, New Orleans is the hometown of Marsalis - and his jazz-playing family that includes younger brother Wynton Marsalis - and the setting for 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', a haunting tune from the new album inspired by Anne Rice's 1976 novel, 'Interview With a Vampire'.
In interviews after the screening, Sting, Apted and the band members told reporters that the film is about taking risks and breaking down barriers, both musical and personal.
It was a risk for Sting to leave - even temporarily - the monster success of The Police to strike out on something entirely new. But it's an even bigger gamble to film the risk-taking while it's happening - knowing that it could fail and that the failure would be there for the world to see.
"It took a lot of guts to walk away from what he had," Marsalis said.
Of course, Sting hastens to add that he's not through with The Police. He's just trying something new for a while. How long will this band last? For as long as it still feels good to play, they all say. The tour will continue at least until April, but there are no set plans after that.
"We (The Police) will play again," Sting said. "I just don't want to repeat the formula merely to get some bucks in the bank. We don't need to and, anyway, it's boring."
But it took some courage - and a lot of persistence - to break through the barriers the recording industry has created to separate music into rigid categories - jazz, rhythm and blues, rock'n'roll, pop.
Sting says American musicians also are trying to cross over the boundaries. The problem, he said, is not so much racism, as some have suggested, but the inertia of the recording business.
"The industry is so large that it's easier to program and market music in sections," he said. "But I think music is best when it's looked at as a totality. I see no barriers, and I want to see that (attitude) reflected on the radio and in the industry."
"It's not a glorified look at the album or a puff piece for Sting or an extended MTV video," Apted said of the movie. "In fact, you'll notice that not a single song is played all the way through in the film."
Although clearly many people will see the film because they are Sting fans, Apted said he hopes it will be equally accessible even to people who don't know anything about either Sting or jazz music.
To that end, Apted has been largely successful. Whether or not you knew or liked any of these people beforehand, you probably will by the end of the film. It's hard not to like these funny, personable and highly talented musicians, who, despite their youth, have been playing in jazz and rock bands for years. changed.
"The whole thing has been good for me because the band has lightened me up," Sting said. "I tend to take myself too seriously, but in this band I can't do that."
With the exception of a couple of scenes featuring Sting's manic manager, Miles Copeland, there are few scenes of conflict in the film. It's clear that Sting is in charge; they are his songs and he sets the parameters within which the musicians may improvise. It's a much different situation from his Police days, when conflicts were frequent and all three Police-men wanted to be in charge.
"In this band, our roles were all clearly marked out from the beginning, but as we grow more confident in our roles, it will become more like a democracy," Sting said. "In The Police, no one was ever quite clear about who would do what, so the history of the band is the history of struggle (for power) - and things got tense sometimes."
The musicians also had to adjust to the limits of music for a mass audience, a much different style from the slow-to-warm-up and then wildly improvisational style of jazz.
"Pop music has to burn from the first bar because you don't have that much time," Sting said. "There's not as much opportunity for each band member to take long solos."
From the standpoint of cinematic technique, the film breaks no new ground, but it holds your attention nonetheless, especially if you like to look behind the scenes.
And there's a certain element of what-will-happen-next, because, Apted says, the film makers sometimes didn't know what would happen next. There was no script, just a basic concept of moving from rehearsals to concert and then intercutting the two. At one point, a group of elderly Frenchwomen unexpectedly arrived to tour the chateau, which is a public museum, while the band was in the midst of rehearsing. Their reactions to the band's energetic jamming is hilarious to watch.
"I told the band, keep playing, keep playing, and we just grabbed the cameras and started filming," Apted said. Such tactics in part account for the fact that they shot about three times as much film used in an average feature film. arrived immediately after the second Paris concert. Sting didn't want to miss the birth, as he had with his other children, and both Sting and Styler wanted to film the event for a personal archive. Later, they and Apted decided it would be a fitting emotional climax for the film, with the birth accompanied by the words and music of Sting's pro-children, anti-war song, 'Russians'. It's a song about parental fears in a nuclear age ("How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?") but it ends on a hopeful note that "the Russians love their children, too."
It's a classic Sting song - thoughtful, politically aware, lyrically elegant. And the film and album contain others like it, such as 'Children's Crusade', in which the image of a poppy, symbol for a generation of English boys killed in World War I, serves as a link to a modern generation of English children rotting from heroin addiction.
© The San Diego Union-Tribune