Film review: ‘Where Does A Body End?’

Michael Gira

‘Where Does A Body End?’ is an exceptional documentary about the band Swans. It documents the band from their roots as aggressive, contraversial post-punk band that emerged from the same early 1980s era NYC that also included Sonic Youth to their attempt at achieving mainstream success in the 90s indie-rock goldrush, and through many breakups and chaos (on and offstage) to their odds-defying current status as one of the most accomplished and ambitious bands in the world.

Marco Porsia (director/cinematographer/editor) embedded himself in the bands’ inner circle for 5 years, filming rehearsals, song-writing sessions, the grind of life on the road, petty arguments and transcendent performances. He spent the time documenting the band included the recording of some of their most significant records and the final months on the road as they prepared for their farewell tour.

Swans has always been a collection of singular performers, but there’s been one constant since it’s formation in 1982 – singer, songwriter Michael Gira. His biography (teenage runaway, art school provocateur, alcoholic, family man) and influences (Jimmy Swaggart casts a shadow as large as the Germs) are inseparable from the story of the band and the music they make. With unfettered access to hundreds of hours of Gira/Swans archives of never-seen before recordings, videos and photographs, the film brings us along the path they needed to carve for themselves.

‘Where Does A Body End?’ is a comprehensive timeline of the band that includes interviews and live footage. It shows Swans figurehead, Gira, in a different light. Gira always seemed to be intense and frightening until I watched this documentary. You better understand what kind of environments he grew up in and what experienced as a teenager, and the interviews show that his intensity is used to channel the music whilst performing and he’s quite subdued and even personable during the interview segments and fan meetings.

Michael Gira B&W

The film is many things, a musical history, a time-capsule, a tour diary, a concert film, but mostly it’s the story of a life in the arts, frequently difficult, spanning decades without a safety net, creating the work because, Gira says “What else am I going to do?” As bandmate Thor Harris notes, “Michael is not a fearless person, but he is a fearless artist.

Porsia explains why he decided to do a Swans documentary, “When Swans announced their reactivation and subsequent tour in 2010, I knew I had to document them live. After filming about a dozen shows and being repeatedly consumed by the performances, I decided I needed to tell the story of Swans. I approached Michael Gira with the idea and he generously accepted to let me enter their circle. I had always been amazed at how little visual material there was out there on this influential band.

Watch the trailer via Vimeo below.

The film includes live footage from over 40 concerts filmed in USA, Canada, Italy, England, Holland, Germany, Belgium, and Japan and stars:

Michael Gira
Thurston Moore
Lee Ranaldo
Jehnny Beth
Karen O
Amanda Palmer
Blixa Bargeld
Jim Thirlwell
Jim Sclavunos
Kid Congo Powers
Ben Frost
Daniel Miller
John Doran
Paul White
Dele Fadele

This is a must see film for any Swans fan, but anyone who is interested in post-punk music should check out the film because they’d appreciate the intensity in Gira’s performances throughout his musical career.

If you’re in Toronto, you can check out a special screening of the film at the Revue Cinema on Monday June 24 @ 6:45 – check out the details below + buy a ticket.