Superb Documentary On Michael Gira

Where Does a Body End? is a staggeringly intimate yet thorough look at Michael Gira and the Swans. The group began in 1982 under the guidance of Michael Gira’s growing artistic impulses. Founded in the noisy, post-punk New York underground of the early ’80s, the Swans evolved over the years into one of music’s most ambitious and avant garde groups.

Marco Porsia crafts an exhaustive and comprehensive documentary on the Swans and Michael Gira’s four decades leading the iconoclastic group. Loud, uncompromising and brutal, Gira’s singular musical vision has made them a cult favorite over the years. Always known as a passionate live band, Gira’s intense performances are legendary.

Swans: Where Does a Body End? is a staggeringly intimate yet thorough look at Michael Gira and the Swans

Never-seen-before recordings, videos, and photographs have been pulled from the Swans’ archives, unveiling sights and sounds that long-time fans will lap up. It’s a glorious amalgam of concert clips, talking head interviews and candor from Michael Gira himself. Gira’s creative process and the resulting music is given in-depth coverage from a variety of angles.

Featured interviews include a wide range of musical peers and former members of the group. Michael Gira talks extensively about his career and opens up about his musical influences, including Pink Floyd and even Jimmy Swaggart’s sermons.

Former Swans that appear include Jarboe giving candid insights into the group and their own perspectives on the music. Jarboe goes into her unique relationship with Gira and how the group falling apart in 1997 led to their own romantic break-up.

A number of friendly peers and admirers from the music industry appear. Closely associated with the Swans during the 1980s, Sonic Youth members Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo discuss their first-hand experiences witnessing the Swans’ development. More recent acts like Devendra Banhart, Anna Von Hausswolff, and Amanda Palmer discuss the importance and influence of the group.

Covering their entire career, every album is recalled and analyzed. Everything from their massively successful Soundtracks For The Blind album to the often dismissed The Burning World is brought to light, the bad with the good. It’s an informative overview that succinctly captures the essence of each period in the band’s career. Running nearly three hours, little is left out.

The documentary ends up as a time capsule of the group’s decades-long history. A loving tribute to their music, it’s evident that filmmaker Marco Porsia is a huge fan that was granted immediate access to Michael Gira and the Swans without interference. This is as good a documentary as one could make on the Swans. An essential documentary for their legions of fans.

Video

The 2019 documentary is a mixture of new HD footage and archival clips in a variety of native resolutions, some going as far back as 1980. Porsia has chosen to maintain a consistent 1.78:1 aspect ratio whenever possible, though older clips occasionally appear in their native 4:3 format. The newer footage looks sparkling in excellent 1080P video with a flawless contrast and inky black levels.

Distributed by MVD, the main feature runs almost three hours at 161 minutes. Taking up an entire BD-50, the high-bitrate AVC encode is perfect. It flawlessly handles even the lesser source material, including dingy concert footage shot in SD.

There’s nothing to complain about with the picture quality. The archival material from the 80s and 90s doesn’t look great but the group wasn’t even signed to a major label until 1989. The footage from the past decade has excellent clarity and definition. Swans: Where Does a Body End? receives a beautiful Blu-ray presentation.

Audio

The unique and punishing sound of Michael Gira and the Swans is heard in superb 2.0 PCM audio. Swans: Where Does a Body End? offers shockingly high-quality fidelity, nicely mixed with proper dynamic range and crisp playback. Having heard many musical documentaries before, this stereo mix is a first-rate effort that captures the sound of the Swans at their best.

Interviews have clean dialogue reproduction and volume levels have been perfectly normalized. Everything from live concert recordings to their latest studio efforts deliver a droning pulse with commanding authority.

Optional English subtitles play in a yellow font.

Extras

MVD Visual is putting out two separate Blu-ray editions for this music documentary. There’s the standalone Blu-ray edition and a forthcoming two-disc deluxe edition. The label didn’t send DoBlu the deluxe edition for review. Reports indicate it has 156 minutes of bonus material housed in a 6 panel digipak with original artwork by Hrvoje Karalic and an 8 panel foldout insert.

The Blu-ray is coded for all regions. A small booklet with comments from director Marco Porsia and the roster of notable guests is included.

Swans: Where Does A Body End? Theatrical Trailer (02:15 in HD)

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Swans: Where Does a Body End?
  • Video
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  • Extras
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Movie

A long but rewarding documentary on the Swans and Michael Gira, featuring unseen archival clips and new interviews with key members.

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5 (1 vote)

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