Don Van Vliet by Anton Corbijn

Anton CorbijnSome Yo Yo Stuff

Anton Corbijn’s luminous tribute to Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart (“an observation of his observations”) is worth a shelf full of subsequent sedulous biographical research. Its opening shot sees the subject’s mother plant a little cut-out Don in the desert, as if to suggest that the retired/retiring ex-Captain is both a flatly iconic simulacrum of his former self and a very real presence rooted in the Mojave: a desert-visionary painter and (on the svelte evidence here) gnomically hilarious raconteur.

Corbijn frames Van Vliet’s fragile stillness with ravishing desertscapes and two Captain Beefheart tracks, but it’s his speaking voice that lingers. Illness may have grounded the flighty Captain’s whoops and hollers, but his halting delivery still swerves into gravelled, lucid insistence on a single syllable: “The fish I used on the cover of Trout Mask Replica stank so bad… Humans are so mean!”

He’s also a pure joy to watch: puffing on his cigar or suddenly executing one of those splayed, sweeping arm gestures that were the essence of his stage presence. Which is not to say that Some YoYo Stuff is a mere wake for pre-1982 Beefheart, evidence of some spectral half-life lived out after the fact. Here too is Van Vliet the artist and desert prophet, formulating ‘naive’ aphorisms (“When you sculpt little things, it makes your fingers feel delightful”) and obliquely generous tributes to his peers (“He was the only Frank Zappa I knew”).

His desert retreat may be legendary, but this is an artist still with an eye and ear outside his own myth:“I’d like to tell you people watching and listening… BOO!”

— Brian Dillon, The Wire

Found on Nikola Tamindzic's Tumbler via Kateoplis