This is the story of how a post-punk band – the anti-Soviet art rockers Antis – managed to spearhead the Lithuanian independence movement, lighting the fire in what would later be known as the Singing Revolution.
A group of architects decide to make a band one New Year’s in Kaunas as something of a joke. Antis were led by its charismatic lead singer Algirdas ‘Pablo’ Kaušpėdas – imagine a cross between Bryan Ferry and Bela Lugosi but with military regalia and black lipstick. With a name meaning both ‘duck’ and ‘false media sensation’ in Lithuanian, their sharp lyrics satirised Soviet propaganda and stuck some fingers up to the regime. Combined with flamboyant stage performances, clearly influenced by bands like the Talking Heads, their distinctive message soon gained national recognition.
Director Giedrė Žickytė takes us from 1984, at the beginning of perestroika (a political movement for reformation within the Communist Soviet Union), via the gaining of Lithuanian independence in 1990, and ending up in the present day. Žickytė manages to transmit the euphoria and zeal of a specific moment in history beautifully – not an easy thing to do if you’re unfamiliar with the band or the history. This is partly aided by the vast and well put together variety of footage, which includes news reels, music videos and concert footage of the famous Rock Marches – huge outdoor festivals, which eventually transformed into mass meetings for Lithuanian independence. The footage is stunning if imperfect, whether it’s the damaged neon tints of some archival material or some priceless VHS recordings dug up from private collections. Apart from offering a worrying reminder of how ‘retro’ the crackle of a VHS can look these days, the footage conveys a real sense of ‘being there’, combined with a touching child-like excitement. This hints at the fact that the director was a child when the events were going on.
In a wonderful final scene, we see the director shooting Kaušpėdas by a pond on the lush grounds of his home. A rather ugly and apparently expensive statue of some frogs becomes a topic of conversation between director and star. Looking no less dapper than in his Antis heyday, his impenetrable face gives us no hint of what he really means, and we're left to interpret it ourselves. Did Antis sell out to capitalism? Can we define art by its cost or by its craftmanship?
This ending captures the film’s style perfectly. Don’t expect an objective documentation of the Antis story and Lithuanian independence. This is a very personal telling of events. The director has compared the euphoria of this moment in history to the overpowering emotion of first love, and the fairytale frogs and fan girl touches express this very clearly. This is a wonderful documentary on an exciting period in history, where rock really could change the world.
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