How does a song come to life on screen? In New Haven filmmaker Gorman Bechard’s latest rock documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless?, the magic lies in the editing.
Bechard’s movie follows Lydia Loveless, a 24-year-old country rocker from rural Ohio, as she and her band tour across the Midwest in 2014 and 2015.
Bechard, who has made a name for himself in recent years as a consummate chronicler of the passion, restlessness and unpredictability of those devoted to rock ‘n’ roll, finds in Loveless a case study for the expressive potential and logistical difficulties of trying to make a living as a full-time musician.
Mostly, though, he simply loves her music.
“To me, rock ‘n’ roll should be chaotic,” Bechard said on a recent episode of WNHH-FM’s “Deep Focus” radio show. “We should never know what to expect from rock ‘n’ roll. I hate when you see the same band two days in a row and they play basically the same set and they say exactly the same thing. With Lydia, you never know what’s going to happen.”
“It’s real rock ‘n’ roll,” he continued. “It’s wonderfully chaotic, but it’s always perfect. … [Lydia] reaffirmed my faith in rock ‘n’ roll.”
In fitting tribute to the controlled chaos of his subject’s artistry, Bechard has crafted a film that carefully observes the process of making music, pinpointing those discrete moments when the jumbled mess of human creativity transforms into something composed and evocative.
Tucked amid nearly two hours of concert footage, bandmate interviews and knowledgeable rants against music piracy and industry sexism is a five-minute sequence that shows, step by step, how one of Loveless’s songs comes to be.
The sequence starts in Loveless’s home office. Sitting alongside her typewriter and stacks of records, she tries out different chord progressions, jots down lyrics in her notebook.
From her plaintive lips and guitar strings emerges “Desire,” a story of a young woman jaded by her married lover’s inattentiveness.
As the music continues uninterrupted, Bechard jump cuts to the band’s rehearsal space later in the day. Loveless is still singing, but now she is joined by her guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player, who are learning the song as they fill out its contours. The guitar player sits on the carpeted floor, a cigarette dangling from his lips as he hunches over his instrument, helping give shape to the new song.
Jump cut to later in the month, and Loveless is still singing, but now alone and in a glass-enclosed studio. She’s recording a second vocal track for the album version of the song. With an American flag bandanna wrapped around her eyes like a blindfold, Loveless pulls her body toward and away from the microphone’s pop screen, channeling all of the song’s physical ache into her voice.
And then one last jump cut, months into the future, to Loveless and her band performing “Desire” on stage before a live audience. The lyrics, melody and instrumentation are all familiar from earlier sections of the song, but something ineffable has occurred in that last jump from studio to stage. The song is no longer just an idea. It’s now out in the real world, tangible, unpredictable and bursting with vitality.
That last edit, from the process of creation to the art in action, is like jumping from a dream to reality, or perhaps the other way around.
Though no longer than the length of the song itself, the step-by-step sequence encapsulates just what Bechard is up to in Who Is Lydia Loveless?
If Bechard’s Color Me Obsessed explored the inspiration and devotion that loyal fans feel towards their favorite musicians, and if Every Everything dove deep into the solitary, idiosyncratic mind of one prolific punk rocker, Lydia Loveless has its eyes set on the process of making music itself.
Where does it come from? What are the forces that try to stop, distort or influence it? How does it evolve over time? How does it emerge as something that can be shared between artist and audience?
“You make these things first and foremost for yourself,” Bechard said, both about Loveless’s music and about his own movies. Unaffiliated with any major studio, Bechard and a small team of regular collaborators produce his movies through Bechard’s independent production company, What Were We Thinking Films.
“You have to be happy with them. If you try to make a film that’s going to please everybody, or if she was going to try to write a song that would please everybody, it would just fail tremendously. You have to go with your gut feelings, and go with your passions and go with your emotions, and create the art and hope that it’s honest enough that is resonates with a lot of people.”
For Bechard, Who Is Lydia Loveless? embodies just that: a music documentary brimming with singular passion, focus and conviction, but also one that knows when to reign in the chaos and reflect upon just what happens to a work of art as it moves through the process of creation. After all, between the gut feelings and the final product lies a lot of hard, collaborative, creative work.
“One thing we both have in common is we both treat this very much as a job,” Bechard said about his approach to filmmaking and Loveless’s approach to music. “This is what I do.”
Click on the below audio players to listen to a recent interview with Bechard about Who Is Lydia Loveless, and to listen to a January 2016 interview with Bechard about his career as a filmmaker to date.
To learn more about Who Is Lydia Loveless? and about Gorman Bechard’s other works as a filmmaker, check out his production company’s website at http://www.whatwerewethinkingfilms.com/.