The commercial movie theater audience inside and the general public everywhere outside divide sharply into camps on this one, those mad for Swedish House Mania and those who haven’t a clue. World premièring at SXSW, Leave the World Behind had fans screaming and waving upraised arms -- though not dancing in the aisles -- and, its insistent-beat house music loud as a jet takeoff, the couple of clueless at a one-night-only sneak preview scratching their heads and holding their ears.
Beyond the sounds, opinion about the ninety-seven-minute rockumentary “multi-sensory assault” will be just as polarized. Representative of others, one screen teen in India gushed that the just-concluded concert had been the absolute high point of her life, not so audacious a claim in light of this 2012-13 “One Last Tour” being the most ambitious ever for electronic music, selling more than a million tickets its first week, filling storied venues in twenty-six countries, and, the threesome’s disbanding announced previously -- where else but on social media -- generating oodles of print and online buzz.
Those many uninitiated may well take half the film to realize that, “musician” here needing a new understanding, Axel “Axwell” Hedfors, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello do not play traditional instruments or sing or dance or moonwalk. They compose and play EDM -- electronic dance music -- on mixing consoles or boards high above a stage wreathed in spots, strobes, lasers and smoke pots and spouting fireworks.
The fashionably stubble-bearded guys are a cross of hip-hoppers, DJs, sound engineers and producers. Married thirty-something white Stockholmers with wives and kids and not outlandish tattoos, in sneakers and black tee shirts and trousers they are far different from many other current young people’s idols, and while they joke of past wild doings, there is at least here no indication of groupies, orgies or substance abuse.
Aside from watching them perform and the kids react, the cinema come-on is that the reasons for the breakup will be forthcoming. But while in brief, often b&w interview moments of reflective teasing yet not-full candor, together and separately they semi-say that SHM’s dissolution is to save their by-now-strained friendship of long standing, there is no probing or subsurface.
Fans in Australasia, SE Asia and the Indian subcontinent appear as enthralled as their fellow ravers in Europe and North America, but it is of note that they are exclusively non-black, not African-American or African-Anything or African. The all-standee concerts feature no outsized screens for those in the scholarship section so far from center stage that the heroes are dots. At first glance about a latter-day Beatlemania on steroids and without the Liverpudlians’ humor, the film is actually like modern culture at large, suffering from ADD/ADHD, its scenes, angles, sounds and people shifting every few frames.
To play around with critic Jon Landau’s Springsteen prediction of 1974, this could be music’s future and its name is Swedish House Mafia. If so, apart from those already firmly committed in the choir, LWB might be worth a one-time look for the merely curious, who would be well advised to bring along earplugs.
(Released by A Black Dog Film; not rated by MPAA.)