By Laura Macomber
In 2007, Sufjan Stevens added yet another tag to his résumé as musician, composer, lyricist, poet, writer, and overall-creative-soul: filmmaker. His short film, entitled The BQE, is a self-described “visual travelogue” of New York City’s poorly planned stretch of outer-borough highway and its surrounding neighborhoods, shot in 16 mm and Super 8. The film first premiered at BAM in November 2007, with Stevens performing the accompanying score, which he composed, live; now, two years later, he is releasing the DVD version on October 20th (Asthmatic Kitty) .
Though the opening credits of The BQE are a somewhat irritating reminder of Sufjan’s mighty self-perception (Did you hear? Stevens directed AND edited AND composed the music to the documentary that he also conceived of and brought to fruition), one has to concede, the man’s got chops. His film is a brief but metaphysical foray into the fringes of cinema, reminding viewers of all the potentials that cinematography, as art, contains: it is a beautiful escape; an overwhelming visual encounter; a netting of the mind where the body momentarily dissolves. Sufjan’s accompanying soundtrack sets the emotional tenor of his thrice-spliced footage, assigning smooth tempos to midday shots of lazily driving cars, upping the beat and increasing the brass when dusk falls and headlights are turned on, rushing at viewers like a thousand swiftly-moving Christmas tree lights. Asthmatic Kitty Records, the label Stevens formed with his stepfather in 2000, had this to say about the film’s multidimensional score when it was first performed:
What is the musical piece exactly? Not so easy to say. In an era that unravels musical forms, The BQE suffers an identity crisis. It is inspired by the programmatic symphonies of the Impressionists, but it aspires to the pageantry of Copland and the melodrama of a John Williams movie score. It could be a suite, a fugue, a theme and variation, a repetition of melodies, a canon, to name a few.
The film is equally genre-bending. Part video montage, part documentary, part videogame (Frogger came to mind more than once), The BQE is a sensory smorgasbord that challenges most notions of filmmaking, or, if the score is more where your attention lies, music video-making. And like the majority of Stevens’ artistic endeavors, the film is infused it with its own unique brand of kitschy-Americana, this time in the form of three scantily-clad hula-hoopers.