Posted: 12/27/2009


R.E.M.: This Is Not a Show, Premiering on Sundance Channel Dec. 28


by Laura Tucker

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When I think of R.E.M., I immediately think of Man On the Moon and It’s the End of the World as We Know It. They’re one of the defining bands from the ’80s and ’90s. Sundance is honoring them with what they’re calling a documentary. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I guess I should have heeded the warning, as they tried to tell me it wasn’t a show.

R.E.M.: This Is Not a Show promises to cut back and forth between backstage bits and performance footage, except there really isn’t too much backstage. The performances are done in front of a crowd, but it’s not a “real” crowd, as it’s practice footage for a July 2007 concert at Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. There’s enough cheering, though, that you really wouldn’t know the difference, other than a few key jokes from Michael Stipes. All of that is in black and white … really dark black and white … while the few backstage moments are filmed with color.

This concert was an effort on R.E.M.’s part to test new material. The problem with this is that they are only testing new material. They aren’t relying on any of their old standbys. There are no hits to be heard on this Dublin stage. Not that it wasn’t good music. I mean, it was still R.E.M., and I haven’t ever heard a song of theirs I didn’t like. It just wasn’t songs you could sing along with, as they were all new, and part of the enjoyment of watching a concert is singing along to your favorites. It would be like going to a good concert when you had never heard the performer before that night. It would still be good, just not exactly experienced the way you want to.

Adding to all this is the fact that the few backstage moments that are included are filmed with a single camera, by a person on the move. It honestly looks like the old videos we watched on Christmas Eve at my parents’ house, the ones where my mom took control of the camera. Someone will put the camera down and walk away from it, leaving it on, or it gets totally shaky when the camera operator gets jostled and seems to forget that they need to keep the camera steady. It’s a little annoying on something like this.

I don’t know if I’d call R.E.M.: This Is Not a Show a documentary, as I look at documentaries as a way to learn something, but there wasn’t any learning going on here, other than the knowledge that R.E.M. is always good, whether they’re filmed shakily, performing for no one, or performing music you’ve never heard before. If you enjoy this band and sit down to watch this “documentary” on Sundance with an open mind, you’ll probably enjoy it.

R.E.M.: This Is Not a Show premieres on Sundance Channel on December 28.

Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack, and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, and is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at

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