Smog Veil Records // 2009 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // March 26th, 2011
"Why does the train always smell like pee?"
If there's anything that unites all the peoples of the world, other than a desire for world peace and hatred of mimes, it's the love of whining. People love to complain. People love to complain about other people complaining. Some of you are going to complain about this review. It's not thorough enough. The writing is blah. I know. I'm on a tight schedule. I don't have enough time in my day to meticulously craft my prose. Half the time I can't write at all because my computer's always on the fritz, and I can't afford a new one. Also, this water I'm drinking tastes like soap.
There's a word in Finnish called valituskuoro. It's an expression that describes a situation where many people are complaining simultaneously, and translates roughly to "complaints choir." Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, a pair of Finnish visual artists, decided to take this expression literally and create actual complaints choirs, groups of people bellyaching in unison, to music. It's a crazy idea, but in a world that has flash mobs and Banksy in it, it's just crazy enough to work. Complaints choirs have indeed taken off from the Kalleinens' original concept, spreading throughout the world -- there are complaints choirs in Hamburg, Tokyo, Chicago, New York City, Alaska, the Philippines, and more.
Complaints Choir, a documentary directed by Ada Bliggard Søby, follows three choirs, in Germany, Chicago, and Singapore, from conception to performance. As with any attempt to gather and coordinate large groups of people -- in this case, especially disgruntled people -- into large-scale projects, the efforts to create these choirs hit many snags, especially in Singapore, where the Kalleinens encounter unexpectedly stiff government resistance and acres of red tape. This perhaps isn't too surprising considering complaints like "What's wrong with Singapore?" and "What's not expressly permitted is prohibited." The Chicago choir's concerns are a little more quotidian -- "My gums are receding!"
Appropriately, I did have some complaints about the documentary. While the people involved are all engaging enough, there's not a lot of narrative oomph; it feels more like a travel diary than a focused, shaped story, so even dramatic moments like the troubles in Singapore don't carry much tension or suspense. This is partly due to the Kalleinens themselves, a laid-back, good-natured pair who, surprisingly, considering the nature of the project, don't actually complain all that much about the roadblocks thrown in their path. When we actually see the choirs perform, though, it's really a crazy, and crazily compelling, sight to behold. Individually, they're just ordinary people grumbling about their lives. Collectively, they become a heavenly chorus of lamentation that elevates mere carping into something humorous and strangely beautiful. Like the best art, it gives us an arresting, original take on the most mundane of human activities.
Good luck finding a copy of Complaints Choir -- the documentary has been a hit on the festival circuit, but hasn't found wide distribution except from third-party sellers on Amazon or at CD Universe. It is worth seeking out, though, for anyone interested in something amusing and novel. The package itself is beautifully made, a gatefold digipack containing a DVD and three audio discs of recordings by DIY complaints choirs around the world. The DVD looks and sounds terrific, with clean digital video and audio, and offers a small selection of bonus scenes and a trailer.
Why does the court always have to render a verdict?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Smog Veil Records
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio CDs
* Bonus Scenes
* Official Site