With Look at What the Light Did Now (2010), US musician Feist presents something more than just a run of the mill music documentary, charting the highs and lows of success or a life on the road. Instead, she documents a passage of time in which herself, her band and a handful of experimental artists set about to create what, quite rightly, must be deemed as a visual expression of her music.
Indeed, the story of Look at What the Light Did Now lies less so in the music of Feist, the film instead takes its shape in the artists and musicians that surround her, as if to suggest that the enchanting qualities that make Feist such an enigmatic performer are rubbing off on all who are fortunate enough to work alongside her. Sitting oh-so comfortably in the cosy niche of folk music sounds and arts-and-craftsy aesthetics, Feist lets us into her fairy light-illuminated world, full of dancing shadows and ingenious paper crafted creations. The opening credits alone set the tone for all that is to follow; POV shots of excursions in various small aircraft, coaches and the like combine with stunning black and white stills of life on the road and interviews with her countless contributors.
So who is Feist? It’s certainly a bit of a mystery. As one collaborator defines it, “even in her music she is able to show herself without showing herself”. With both her debut album Let it Die and more recently, The Reminder, she is a part of the sleeve art, but yet her identity is still somewhat indiscernible.
The contrasting qualities between both pieces of artwork are stark in terms of colour and texture, but ultimately her identity is still skewed, obscured through shadows or buried under grass. Look at What the Light Did Now acts as something of an exposition, finally presenting the woman herself in simple interview scenario to all those who have not yet been fortunate enough to see her in concert. As she initially graces the screen with her presence, her appearance is almost met with a level of disbelief, that of the fragments of an identity pre-interpreted by a listener of her music as they finally come together as something tangible.
Feist’s own fascination (or perhaps insecurity) with the distortion of self-image comes across in the film, most prevalently in her collaboration with director/performer/designer Lea Minaker. Minaker’s concerns lie, quite contradictorily, in the use of projected silhouettes to portray something intangible; a place where “everything that is parallel to the real world [becomes] the dream world”. Other contributors speak of taking Feist out of the dimly-lit stage productions she is used to and using bright light as a place of vulnerability for her; ideas that seem to somewhat contradict the mystique that surrounds her as a performer.
Such notions of playing with the simple contexts of both dark, shadowy spaces and illumination seem to dominate the documentary, aptly explaining the film’s initially cryptic title. A photographer describes Feist as awkward in front of a camera, yet she is so innately at home on a stage in front of hundreds. These contradictory moments are what piece together the mystery of both Feist herself and Look at What the Light Did Now, making the film feel like something of a chase, a hunt for the real identity of the musician hiding within.
However, it is in the final moments of the film that we at last see Feist in all her earthy glory, guitar in hand, enchanting vocals springing forth from her mouth. Almost all shots featuring Feist herself choose to escape the confinements of a brightly-lit stage and go out into nature, suggesting that her processes of artistic creation are driven by her surroundings and are very organic in their nature.
Like many great music documentaries that have come before it, Look at What the Light Did Now manages to go some way to fathom the unfathomable, and make attempts to define the relentless creative waves of a talented musical performer.
Laura J. Smith