by Ed Lopez-Reyes for Brain Damage
Many Pink Floyd fans have developed a unique perspective on director Roddy Bogawa's documentary Taken by Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis: in 2010, Bogawa approached Pink Floyd's fan community (among others) to help finance this project. By all estimates, that effort paid off.
Since then, that fan community's knowledge of the documentary has been predominantly centered on a rough understanding of what Bogawa has weaved together on film as well as awareness of its sojourn through festivals and museums. It has been left up to this community to develop a collective reckoning of how the Thorgerson and Hipgnosis saga has been chronicled in the documentary – but opportunities to see the end result are beginning to materialize: the result is a truly moving film offering the narrative for three stories Pink Floyd fans can all relate to: a story about Thorgerson's work, a story about Thorgerson himself, and a story about the art of the album cover.
Making a journey, if possible, to catch this on the big screen is well worth the effort: particularly as Bogawa travels with the film and takes questions from his fans and supporters. This is a unique opportunity that is unlikely to be replicated often once the film lands a distribution deal. Such was the occasion at New York City's Museum of Modern Art last Thursday night (February 23rd, 2012), when it welcomed Taken by Storm and Bogawa. The director was joined by co-producer and score composer Chris Brokaw as well as film editor Karen Skloss in a Q&A session with the audience after the film's screening.
The film begins with a breathtaking panoramic, aerial shot of the staging of the A Momentary Lapse of Reason (AMLOR) album cover. From the very beginning, Bogawa's documentary elicits a visceral impact from several perspectives: from that of the fan who has gazed at the AMLOR cover (or any other cover by Thorgerson, for that matter) many times over so many years in bewilderment, from that of the photography and graphic design fan who is struck by the attention to detail and surreal qualities of Thorgerson's work, and from that of the fan who will come to the realization that, (as the film's promotional poster states), this man really did design 80% of your record collection.
Several mysteries are untangled in Bogawa's documentary:
If Thorgerson is not the actual photographer, what role does he play and how does his vision for a cover develop toward a final product? How did the most iconic items in the Thorgerson collection come about? What does Thorgerson really think of the Dark Side of the Moon cover and its ubiquity around the world? How involved were each of the artists Thorgerson has worked with on the album covers he designed for them? These and many more questions are answered in the documentary: while Thorgerson's own books may include answers to some of them, Bogawa is able to thread it all together with the unique advantage film brings to the table. Even the biggest Thorgerson fans will find Bogawa's work illuminating.
As Bogawa and Skloss pointed out during the Q&A session, much thought was given to the fact that the film evolved quite organically into a dual storyline: a chronicle of Thorgerson's work and a biographical effort on Thorgerson himself. In all truth, both storylines sustain a larger and third commentary: on the story of the album cover itself – and particularly of where that concept is headed.
Bogawa chooses his imagery carefully throughout the film to support all three narratives. Some moments – even some of the briefest moments in the film – can be quite poignant as they dredge out the might with which music can touch us while juxtaposing this with questions as to how technology makes that experience relatively feeble. "As images and sounds become recorded as zeroes and ones and our world disappears into digital files, this man moved 765 beds onto a beach for a photograph," stated the poster outside the screening. Bogawa raises some compelling questions that relate directly to this fact.
While it will be difficult for other artists to fill Thorgerson's shoes, is society (and are music fans) moving toward a new model in which that opportunity becomes a nullity anyhow? What does this say about the album as a comprehensive piece of art and what does Thorgerson think about this?
In fact, Bogawa manages to survey answers from many artists whose relationship with Thorgerson is unique both thanks to Thorgerson's personality (graceful, bluntly humorous, and surprisingly unlike what one might expect based on his album covers) and thanks to the opportunity the album production process presented for this comprehensive artistic endeavor until quite recently, allowing someone like Thorgerson to become an additional member to all these bands in a peculiar way. Where will this "world of ones and zeroes" take us now? Will the concept of the album cover divorce from music production altogether?
These are just some of the questions Bogawa explores in this documentary. Thorgerson's work clearly represents the pinnacle of that relationship, providing Bogawa with the perfect platform to explore this dialog.
The film immediately immerses the audience in a cinematic walk through Thorgerson's work. For the many fans that may have missed out on Thorgerson exhibits in the past (the current Taken by Storm exhibit is taking place in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom through March 16) this is a great way to experience that: Skloss manages to incorporate Thorgerson's work between interviews while preserving the continuity of Bogawa's vision, which is clearly focused on the story so many miss despite the abundant presence of Thorgerson's work in our lives.
Brokaw's music is ethereal and atmospheric – a great fit for the film's subject but also a critical element that helps elevate the documentary. In many respects, Brokaw's work is crucial in capturing a mood many Pink Floyd fans will relate to. The importance of a good film score cannot be overstated (think David Norland's score work on "Anvil! The Story of Anvil") and Bogawa deserves credit for his selection of Brokaw for this project.
It is quite interesting that Brokaw admitted during the Q&A session that much of the work he contributed to the film had been composed before Bogawa began pursuing this project: as with many of music's greatest achievements, some of the best occur rather accidentally.
Bogawa also does justice to Aubrey Powell and Peter Christopherson, two of Thorgerson's former team members at Hipgnosis. These are two gentlemen who shared in much of Thorgerson's creative experience but who have not necessarily become as recognizable as Thorgerson.
Among the additional treats in this film are footage from Pink Floyd's Pulse DVD, (which looks nothing less than spectacular on the big screen), a sense of how diverse Thorgerson's work is and how diverse the artists he has worked with are, and that sense of how down-to-earth Thorgerson is.
If there is any one thing the documentary could use, it is that elusive time with Roger Waters, who agreed to be interviewed for it but whose current tour of The Wall (which started two years ago now) has precluded the chance. Even in the absence of that interview, this film's DVD release is likely to include many extras. Yet, any conversation regarding that is premature, as the film is still making the rounds and is likely to find a distributor sooner than later.
Bogawa deserves great credit for this film, which is likely to compel some Pink Floyd fans to give his past work a look and to keep track of his future endeavors. The same can be said about those who have collaborated with him on this film, such as Brokaw.
More than anything, Bogawa deserves a great deal of credit for the patience and graciousness with which he answered questions – both during the Q&A session as well as on an individual basis before and after the screening. After watching this, the only potential frustration for a fan arises with the realization that one could monopolize the director's evening with questions to the chagrin of others and still have many more to ask. That would be impolite, of course – but the chance to catch more than one screening may be worthwhile, not only because the movie is so detailed but because your curiosity and questions will grow as the film progresses.
Bogawa stated during his presentation that the film could have been many hours long. But he has managed to condense the best material into an hour-and-a-half of a solid documentary effort that is likely to spark interest far beyond the Pink Floyd universe.
This is a thought-provoking documentary and it is based on many subjects (Thorgerson and Pink Floyd in particular – but many more as well). Go catch a screening and bring your questions, and let us hope for a worldwide release and distribution soon.
For more information visit roddybogawa.com.