Arcade Fire Reflektor Tapes - UW

Movie review: The Reflektor Tapes

An elusive Canadian band with a Grammy nomination for every record they’ve released, captured by a talented music video/short film director. Sounds like a winning documentary, wouldn’t you say? Especially since the 6-piece indie-rock Arcade Fire is also known for its creativity (like incorporating Haitian percussion and horns into their latest album), and up-and-coming American filmmaker, Kahlil Joseph, has the innate ability to effortlessly meld beauty and emotion with music.

Unfortunately for The Reflektor Tapes, this match made in heaven has left us with a messy mishmash of concert and behind-the-scenes footage, psychedelic visual elements, and faux-intellectual dialogue.

Were they high when they made this? Considering the film starts with lead singer Win Butler recounting a dream he had where Elvis advised that the band practise for 37 hours a week, we think so.


The film follows Arcade Fire in the makings of their 2013 4th Grammy-nominated album Reflektor. From their unusual choice of kicking off their groundwork in Jamaica, to recording sessions in Canada, to their impromptu gig on the first night of the Haitian Carnival, and finally, jam-packed ‘live’ shows in Los Angeles and London.

What was meant to re-contextualize the already successful album seemed to be made purely for the enjoyment of the people involved, specifically, Arcade Fire’s Butler, and his band mate/wife, Régine Chassagne. Too much of the footage was of Butler talking about his love for his wife, especially her musical genius,, making the film feel more like an ode to their love story, with some token shots of the other members thrown in. And even that seems to be giving their scenes too much credit. Multi-instrumentalists Richard Reed Parry, Butler’s brother William Butler, and Tim Kingsbury barely utter a word. Parry’s a little luckier, earning some screen time in a short after-credits interview clip, assuming you hadn’t bolted out the door before then.

We wish we heard more from the other band members because it might’ve spared us from the insane number of snooty one-liners from Butler, our personal favorite being: “New hybrids keep the vast ocean of musical waves going back and forth – you have to combine with a new kind of force to create a new wave.” Okay, we kind of get what he’s saying, but we also get that he’s super artsy and deep.


If it wasn’t clear enough, we wish to reiterate that The Reflektor Tapes didn’t give us a single fresh insight on the 2-year-old album. Unless you count learning that Arcade Fire likes wearing large fake heads (modelled after their own) and putting on raccoon face paint for gigs (for ‘artistic reasons’, we guess, because we were never told).

If anything, The Reflektor Tapes is a visual experience, much like the pop art-inspired Arcade Fire. Boasting beautiful graphics and an abundant use of overlays, the film is a kaleidoscopic regurgitation of the album experience. Falling back on his experience as a music video director, Joseph added a lot of his personal touches, turning every moment of the Reflektor experience into a Reflektor + Kahlil Joseph experience. He gives us a similar dreamy feel from his previous works, highly-praised Until The Quiet Comes, a short film featuring 3 Flying Lotus songs, and Black Up, a short film for Shabazz Palaces’ album of the same name. But in The Reflektor Tapes, Joseph really goes all out. Not only did he go crazy with the use of colours, going from highly saturated to black and white from one scene to the next, he also uses different textures, aspect ratios and video effects (like screen splits and transitions).

Marrying experimental music with experimental visuals, Joseph presents us with a gorgeous and daring, albeit meaningless, documentary. Given the strong contenders in the music documentary category this year, like Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and recent smash hit Amy about the late Amy Winehouse, UrbanWire honestly thinks they should’ve renamed this an art house film instead of a documentary.


As a piece of cinematic work, The Reflektor Tapes is shabby and pointless. But for the Arcade Fire fan, it’s a must-watch even with the lack of new information. It’s pretentious, egotistical and extravagant – but that’s basically everything we love about the band. For the non-fan, this is a chance for you to listen to their album, and agree that it’s everything the critics say it is.

The Reflektor Tapes will be screened at The Projector only on November 20 and 21. Tickets are priced at $13. Concession tickets cost $11.


Rating: ★★☆☆☆



Screening Dates: 20, 21 November 2015

Location: The Projector

Runtime: 75 minutes

Language: English

Rating: NA

Genre: Documentary, Music

Director: Kahlil Joseph

Cast: Win Butler, Régine Chassagne, William Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury