Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Cool And Crazy



Heftig og Begeistret : Norway 2001
director : Knut Erik Jensen
cinematography : Robert Nordstrom
editing : Helene Berlin
105 minutes

The worst thing about Cool and Crazy is that awful title, which makes it sound like a desperately wacky extreme-sports drama. In fact, the documentary covers a male-voice choir operating out of the icy Norwegian village of Berlevag: while the members are often so literally cool they’re in danger of freezing solid, they’re hardly the hippest bunch of performers youll ever meet. Most of them are getting on – the oldest are 96 and 87 – and and the only craziness on view is the foolhardy way they brave the elements, standing outside in subzero temperatures as they bellow out hymns, sea shanties and folk-tunes.

But C&C is no cosy exercise in nowt so weird as folk quaintness. We get to know some of the singers, and they come from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life the only classification the choir is bothered about is the strictly neutral matter of vocal tone. Berlevag has seen its main industry, fishing, decline rapidly over the past few years, and the choir is one of the few institutions left to bind the community together: at one point, someone remarks that the only things keeping the place from oblivion are the choir and the local breakwater. As an accessible slice of political-social anthropology the film shows the likes of Brassed Off up for the flimsy feel-good entertainments they are: were perhaps closer to John Sayles post-fishing Alaska drama Limbo, with the choirs defiance of the elements also representing their stand against even harsher winds of economic and social upheaval. The films achievement is to get this message across without any trace of preachiness, but plenty of humour.

Any choir worth its salt can produce a rousing sound add this to the understanding we gain of the men as individuals, and as components of their wider community, and its easy to be swept along. But some aspects of the film remain troubling: the obvious extremity of the noisy weather conditions means that a considerable degree of post-production overdubbing must have been necessary, and many of the outside performances in unusual, dramatic settings are rather too plainly staged for the benefit of the camera. The film makes most of its points in its striking first half-hour there is a climax of sorts, in which the choir treks out to the Soviet port of Murmansk, where a remnant of heroic Soviet statuary reduces the most left-wing of the singers to tears. But there’s no real progression in terms of placing the singers in a wider context, and we never get much of an idea how the organisation is funded, or what its future plans may be.

Then again, Cool and Crazy has enjoyed sufficient international exposure to make the singers a major draw on the worldwide choral circuit, perhaps even providing Berlevag with a few much-needed tourist visitors. So even if it lacks that certain cinematic something to take it on to the next level, its an admirable, engaging and thoroughly humanistic piece of work, and it would certainly take a very hard heart not to be moved by its closing images of the choir singing in the teeth of an Arctic blizzard, icicles forming around their wrinkled, indomitable mouths as the screen whites out.

17th December, 2001
(seen Dec-7-01, Kosmos, Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival)

by Neil Young