A couple years ago, Leslie Feist and her whole crew were in Malibu, staying out near the beach, while she was touring off of “The Reminder.” She and friend Kyle Field (aka Little Wings) were outdoors, working on their sets, trading songs and singing together. At one point, they and filmmaker Anthony Seck heard dogs barking and whining at the fence that divided the yard from the beach. Everyone got up to see what the fuss was about, and there was a baby seal, rapt, apparently listening to their music. Feist entertained the animal with some shadow puppets and she and Field moved camp to a gully on the beach. They started playing Little Wings’ “Look at What the Light Did Now” to further entertain their new friend, to take advantage of a rare moment.
The next day, Feist’s documentary had its title. Even though “Look at What the Light Did Now” is not the name of a Feist song, Seck — the doc’s director — agreed that it was a phrase that captured such precious and small moments that made up “The Reminder” and its subsequent, unique tour, with film footage culled from more than four years.
“It was all, special intimate stuff,” Seck told HitFix of the scenes he and editor Holly Singer kept for the final product, out tomorrow (Dec. 7) on DVD. “Les and I were conscious that we wanted something more subtle and artistic. [The interviewees] all have these philosophies, people as a perspective… we said, ‘Let’s make this a non-narrative narrative.'”
Seck and Feist had been longtime friends in Canada; the film was initially shot to be a 20-minute vignette on Clea Minaker, who shaped the extraordinary lights-and-shadow show that accompanied Feist’s live sets. Then Seck was invited onto the entire “Reminder” tour and took down the thoughts of Feist’s musical co-conspirators (like frequent collaborator Chilly Gonzales and Broken Social Scene alumni Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew) her artistic muses (like Minaker, photographer Mary Rozzi and multi-format artist Simone Rubi) and even the sound and light guys.
Special focus, too, is given to Patrick Daughters, whose music videos for Feist helped give her rise to mainstream fame: “1, 2, 3, 4” had its day in the sun in an Apple iPod commercial, and the spotlight burned a little bit brighter.
“Some people scrape, some people spend their entire lives and earnings for a break. For Leslie, it just falls in her lap. She knows she’s in the record business and wants to make a living that way, but she maintains a core of remaining creative. I think women get pushed around by [major] record labels, just like in the film industry. But she holds her own,” Seck says.
Getting Leslie Feist to accept that spotlight — even as a frontwoman of a highly creative circus, and not just a singular icon — was no easy feat. It wasn’t even until Seck was in the editing room that Feist allowed him to interview her for the project.
“She said, ‘I’ll ask you a question, and we’ll talk about that, and then you get to ask me one,'” Seck explains, comparing her, too, to the singing frog in the Looney Tunes short, who would sing for the man who saved him from a shoebox, but would clam up in front of a paying crowd.
Don’t take the metaphor too far, though. Feist positively owns her paying audiences as she’s toured stadiums in support of the 2007 effort. And Minaker’s work as an incorporated member of Feist’s band was no novel act: Seck artfully incorporates that live footage with the narrative, avoiding the “cop-out” pitfalls of some concert films.
The film also includes an invigorating fast-speed slideshow of all the hundreds of design ideas Feist’s collaborators crafted for the album art; a how-to guide of getting Leslie Feist to jump out of a window; and a stunning focus on the recording of “The Water.” There’s really a lot to the story, which is a triumph for Seck and his team for completing such a daring “non-narrative,” originally whittled down to a mere 77 minutes.
Of course, then, there’s less room to leave in fun details from shooting, like Kevin Drew having an uncontrollable laughing fit for 10 minutes or Feist’s manager destroying the tour printer with a hockey stick.
“When were ready to shape the movie, we had to draw the lines pretty tight. There were a lot of schematics — the road, shadow puppetry, live concerts, music recording, music videos, handling press,” Seck says of the business of Feist. “She wanted to make a film that worked. It could”ve been cut two years before [now]. But from final shooting, it needed to take that time creatively. She was the force that got me out there and shooting it. So it was only right she allowed it to have the time that it needed to be finished.”
Seck says Feist is heading back into the studio to record this winter. No word yet if he’ll be on hand to put it all down on film.