‘R.E.M. by MTV’ Chronicles the Entire History of the Iconic Band
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“It was a typical Athens story,” Bill Berry says in an old MTV interview. “Four guys meet at a party and want to play at other parties and drink beer and have fun.”
That story might sound too convenient to be authentic, but it’s true. R.E.M. — the iconic indie rock band that formed in Athens, Ga. in 1980 — never set out to be massive rock stars who signed $80 million dollar record deals; the four members — drummer Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and frontman Michael Stipe — simply enjoyed one another’s company and just wanted to have a good time.
That good time, from the very beginning to their eventual breakup in 2011, has never been captured as comprehensively and as beautifully as in the upcoming documentary, ‘R.E.M. by MTV’ (watch the trailer above). Featuring interviews and footage from throughout their entire career, the documentary will quickly turn into the one-stop-shop for all things R.E.M.-related — and is, without a doubt, one of the best music docs we’ve seen in recent memory.
At the film’s New York City premiere last week (Nov. 6), executive vice president of MTV Networks, Bill Flanagan, told the intimate crowd, “There’s not one part of the Viacom empire that R.E.M. [haven’t] touched.” And that’s evident throughout the film; while MTV claims the namesake of the doc, there is footage from VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon as well.
“We don’t think it’s equal billed,” Flanagan said. “We are honored to be associated with them … they remind us why we fell in love with music.” With that, the lights dimmed at the Directors Guild of America Theater in Midtown Manhattan, and ‘R.E.M. by MTV’ captivated the crowd for the following 100 minutes.
From early interviews with the band members — some of whom looked nearly unrecognizable at times — to forgotten stories (like Courtney Love explaining Kurt Cobain‘s friendship with Stipe), the documentary is chock full of fascinating bits of information that will satisfy even the biggest die-hard fan’s appetite.
Both Mills and Stipe were in the audience and joined director Alexander Young and editor David Leopold onstage for a short Q&A following the screening. “I feel like I just watched myself being born again,” Mills said, to much laughter. The two artists reminisced with the crowd about watching the old interviews and various concert clips.
For instance, when he saw a clip of the band performing ‘Daysleeper’ — “which has one of the hardest notes to hit of any song” — at a concert that was broadcasted to 1 billion people, Stipe told the crowd, “Those moments, that’s the kind of thing you forget because you’re so adrenalized.”
When asked about whether or not their outlook and perspectives have changed since all of the interviews took place, Mills answered matter-of-factly: “We kind of knew what we were talking about even though we didn’t know that we knew what we were talking about. What we said was accurate and it stands the test of time.”
‘R.E.M. by MTV’ was created using over 1,500 tapes that Young, Leopold and their team went through. There’s no narration; instead, the band tells their story through the footage. “I do think it’s a beautiful documentary,” Stipe told them. “You guys have done a tremendous job.”
With an honest and humble reaction, Young remarked, “We all came out bigger fans than we were [going into it].” We think it’s safe to say that will be true for everyone who sees the documentary as well.