Naughty Beastie Boys drop the F-bomb—and a pretty good concert film, too

By Ethan Frenchman

Beastie Boys have, over a career of 27 years, become some of pop culture’s greatest masters of reinvention. Such an outcome is surprising for a trio of Jewish punks, now in their early 40s, who got their start in Brooklyn in 1979. Beastie Boys released four albums that reached the top of the Billboard charts, pioneered the use of sampling, paved the way for white MCs, and have had their music videos chronicled in the prestigious Criterion Collection.

It then makes sense that Beastie Boys would combine their music and video talents to redefine the concert film. Directed by Nathaniel Hörnblowér (Beastie Boys member MCA or Adam Yauch, as his parents named him), Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That is an excellent film for Beastie Boys’ legion of fans.

Most concert films are delegated to professional production companies, who favor wide, over-the-crowd shots made possible by cameras on cranes. The montage is usually completed by too-close shots of the lead singer, whose eye contact with the camera leaves little doubt of the film’s staginess. Who hasn’t flipped the channels late at night to stumble upon the umpteenth Fleetwood Mac concert on PBS, where the only fans featured are the crazy middle-aged women in the front row who gaze adoringly at Stevie Nicks, shaking their hips and mouthing all the words while Nicks waves her scarves around and stares touchingly into the camera lens?

Instead of succumbing to this tired, made-for-TV feel, Hörnblowér essentially invented a new genre of concert film. On September 9, 2004, the band randomly chose 50 ticket holders for their sold-out Madison Square Garden show in New York City. Prior to the show, the designated fans were handed cheap film cameras that—in accordance with the band’s off-the-cuff attitude—were bought at Radio Shack and promptly returned the next day. After a brief lesson in camera handling, the participants were given one rule: During the entire concert, they were expressly forbidden from turning the camera off.

What ends up being transmitted in the film is not only Beastie Boys’ great show but also the rampant enthusiasm of the fans and the excitement that permeates the concert as the boys from Brooklyn play their hometown. Concertgoers of various genders, ages, and races all sing along; the shots of the crowd are peppered with pumped fists, crazy dances, crowd-surfers, and even Ben Stiller rocking out “like it’s 1999.” The cameras catch not only the intense energy of the crowd but other moments that are integral to the concert-going experience.

The fans race around Madison Square Garden’s corridors, waiting in line for hot dogs or beer. One cameraman even has us follow him into the men’s restroom, while we get an inside look at his…personal business, much to the chagrin of the bathroom’s other residents. We also get an inside look as one fan attempts to sneak his way backstage but ends up getting lost somewhere in the depths of the Garden.

The most memorable fan moment comes at the very end, when the concert is over and the last fans are finally leaving their seats. A young woman looks at the camera, her face shiny and smiling. She proceeds to tell the cameraman (and the audience) how, earlier that year, she had been in an accident and fallen into a coma. A friend of hers had come to the hospital and demanded that she wake up, telling the unresponsive girl that she had procured a ticket to the Beastie Boys’ Madison Square Garden show. Soon after, she woke up from her coma.

Despite what may seem to be a shaky premise for a feature-length film, using 50 cameras works. Hörnblowér and his team have crafted a film that gives the viewer a seamless experience of being at a concert without missing any of the music. Crowd shots are mixed with the band’s performance so that neither ever gets old; in fact, you tend to find a favorite camera hog and wait for their next appearance.

While a full quarter of the (presumably bored) press walked out of the screening at Sundance, they are not Beastie Boys’ audience. In describing his inspiration for Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic video (where Beastie Boys wear jumpsuits in a Tokyo subway), MCA once remarked that he realized the coolest guys in any given building are always the janitors. If you can relate to that sentiment, then this movie has something to offer you.

Finally, the sound quality is superb. In a smart move, Hörnblowér and his team got rid of the cameras’ audio altogether and instead synched a professional recording with the images. The result is a clean, tight concert film that is, in all its rarity, fun.