Speaking For Trees: a film by Mark Borthwick Cat Power (Matador) Rating: NN Rating: NN
The good news: at no point during this experimental video-slash-live performance DVD does notorious basket case Chan "Cat Power" Marshall a) lapse into a semi-catatonic state and/or b) mutter gibberish under her breath. As fans who've caught her live are all too aware, Marshall's approach to playing in front of people is pre-verbal at best.
The bad news: as the granola-ish flakiness of its title suggests, Speaking For Trees is all about Cat Power in her "natural habitat." Marshall went ape-shit for the transcendental power of nature while working on last year's phenomenal You Are Free disc. To capture the vibe, filmmaker/photographer pal Mark Borthwick sets up a single, occasionally grainy long shot of Marshall avec guitar in a sun-drenched forest clearing that runs the full two-hour length. We get two hours of digi-video blurring in and out of focus while she fitfully makes her way through a handful of tunes from You Are Free, periodically launching into covers (Ellington's Sophisticated Lady and M. Ward's Sad, Sad Song) and medleys (the Dream/Blue Moon/Try A Little Tenderness one is entertaining).
The recording quality is better than you'd think; Trevor Kampmann gives the fragmented tunes a nice intimate feel, and the cricket and whooshy wind background noises sorta work. But Christ, this is boring. There are a few shorts set to You Are Free tracks as well, but they seem like meditation videos. The accompanying CD, an 18-minute outtake from You Are Free featuring M. Ward on guitar, is decent.