Shadow Kingdom Director – Alma Har’el

Shadow Kingdom was released this week to almost universal approbation. True, the Sony marketing department made a huge gaffe (or perhaps they did it on purpose to boost ticket sales) by advertising the show as an ‘intimate live performance’ when it really wasn’t. In reality, it was a film of Dylan and his “band’ mimicking an actual performance.

Personally, I wasn’t disappointed by this at all. I never really believed he would do a live show in real-time. Whatever. I thought the show was fantastic. It was a great pleasure to hear the reworked versions of old songs. The minimalistic arrangements fit Dylan’s current range and his voice was in surprisingly fine form. I particularly liked that his vocal was up-front in the mix, not buried in the background.

The film was ably directed by Alma Harel. I had never heard of her, so I did a bit of research.

Harel was born and raised in Israel. She got her start doing live VJing and directing music videos – a key perhaps to her involvement in Shadow Kingdom.  A video she did for the Icelandic band Sigur Ros received much critical acclaim. The video below has nudity (horrors!) so you have to go to YouTube to watch it.

In 2011 she directed Bombay Beach, a documentary about a community living in the Salton Sea area of California. The inspiration for the film was pure happenstance. She had gone to the Coachella to film music videos but when that party scene proved unamenable to that endeavor, she took up a friend’s suggestion to check out the Salton Sea. Intrigued, she bought a $600 video recorder and ended up spending a year or so filming the documentary.

As she was making the film, it occurred to her that Bob Dylan songs would fit well. Normally, the chances of an unknown filmmaker obtaining the rights would be slim and none, except that she happened to have met Dylan’s son Jesse while making videos for the Obama campaign. He introduced her to Dylan’s business manager, Jesse Rosen, who gave her permission to use Moonshiner, Tomorrow Is a Long Time, and Series of Dreams.

Actor Shai LaBeouf came across the soundtrack for Bombay Beach because a record store clerk had accidentally filed the DVD in the Dylan section. He watched it and contacted Her’el, which led to their collaboration on the relatively big-budget Honey Boy. LaBeouf wrote the script, basing it on his own childhood. 

Last night I watch both Bombay Beach and Honey Boy. Beach is a heartbreaking tale of the poor (literally) people living in the desolate Salton Sea area.(It’s not really a sea – it’s more of a big lake that was created by overflow from the Colorado River.) It’s a bit depressing really, but definitely worth a watch.

Her’el uses a lot of mask imagery in the film; I wonder what old Bob thought of that if he actually watched it. Oddly, a very similar (and perhaps better) documentary about the same areas was made in 2004 – Plaques & Pleasures on the Salton Sea.

I was less enthusiastic about Honey Boy. Although most of the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes were good, I don’t know. I thought it was highly repetitive and LeBeouf’s portrayal of his father was over-the-top. Maybe just me.

Anyway. From VJing, to music videos, to a chance meeting with Dylan’s son, to a misplaced DVD, to a major motion picture, to directing Shadow Kingdom. A crooked path to a good place.

Additional Reading

https://www.landmarktheatres.com/honey-boy-filmmaker-letter

https://www.vimooz.com/2011/04/26/filmmaker-alma-harel-discusses-her-gorgeous-and-groundbreaking-new-documentary-bombay-beach/

https://variety.com/2015/music/awards/dylans-approach-to-song-licensing-is-positively-surprising-1201421781/

https://ohmag.co.uk/stories/2012/02/06/an-interview-with-film-director-alma-harel

https://www.gq.com/story/honey-boy-director-alma-harel-is-only-getting-started

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