‘The Reflektor Tapes’ mirror Arcade Fire’s musical genius

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Arcade Fire performs as part of their documentary “The Reflektor Tapes.” The film showed Oct. 17 at the New Orleans Film Festival.

Ben Shooter, Associate Arcade Editor

Arcade Fire’s 2013 album “Reflektor” was already larger than life. Its 13 tracks stand out from the rest of the group’s work with their rhythmic leaning toward disco and funk, and the whole album was promoted with distinct imagery — the bobble-headed caricatures of the band, the costumed figure made to resemble a mirror-ball and the unique insignia that spelled out the album’s title.

The new film “The Reflektor Tapes” acts as an explanation of the album’s creation, and a look back on the band’s tour after its release. The film, however, is not a standard rock documentary. 

“It’s abstract,” said Win Butler, Arcade Fire’s primary songwriter and vocalist. “I feel like this is a film that if you watch it again, you’ll kind of see different things, so it kind of functions a little bit more like a record, where you’ll hear different things each time.”

“The Reflektor Tapes” is certainly abstract. The film jumps around in time, switching between compelling moments from the band’s live performances, grainy, candid snippets of the band writing for “Reflektor” in Haiti and Jamaica, and black-and-white shots filmed with a special type of camera to create a surreal glowing effect.

The overall spectacle is visually stunning, and suggests a blurring, non-linear stream of memories, showing events as a member of the band might recall them. Emphasis is given to street-level shots taken in Jamaica and Haiti and images of costumed revelers at events like Haiti’s Carnival, alluding to the cultural experiences the band drew inspiration from.

“The initial sessions in Jamaica — there’s a lot of that in the film — that was a really different experience for the band, and playing in Haiti as well,” Butler said.

The film’s audio is especially fascinating, as live recordings and clips from the album fade into dissonant, arrhythmic sounds, and morph into Haitian and Jamaican folk music. Narration is kept to a minimum, allowing the music to take a larger role in telling the story.

For fans of the band who were already aware of some of the creative process behind “Reflektor,” the movie presents a revealing and immersive experience, but for viewers new to the band, the connections between different sections of the film might be difficult to make — it is somewhat assumed that the viewer understands the context of the film’s events. The post-credit band interview does help in providing some clarity.  

“Reflektor” is worth a watch from new and experienced Arcade Fire fans alike.