Sufjan Stevens

The BQE CD/DVD

Asthmatic Kitty

Dec 10, 2009 Issue #28 Fall 2009 - Monsters of Folk Bookmark and Share


For those who are hoping The BQE represents the long-awaited next installment in Sufjan Stevens' slow trek across the U. S. of A, look elsewhere. For those who are hoping to get some of Stevens' trademark Americana lyrics and witty storytelling, you, too, are barking up the wrong tree. The BQE is, in fact, a film that puts three views (usually, sometimes five or seven) of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway side-by-side-by-side, directed and scored by Stevens.

The film is surprisingly affecting. It wears thin after a while, but until that point, it's kind of like looking at old postcards. Even though The BQE was shot in the present day, Stevens and Reuben Kleiner filmed with a 1960s Bolex, and the modern cars look incongruous in colors and lights that feel so decidedly dated. Stevens intersperses the shots of the street and the buildings with scenes of the three Hooper Heroes, hula hooping women who are dressed like superheroes (of course).

The score, which was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2007, has all the hallmarks of Stevens: playful woodwinds sneaking through dancing horns, cataclysmic percussion, sweeping narrative. When things take an electronic turn with "Movement IV: Traffic Shock," it becomes less successful, strictly because the modernity doesn't match the timelessness of the images. 

For the most part, however, The BQE summons up a lot of emotion. It feels like a project, something done for school as a kid, with the kind of whimsical subject matter that a child might dream up, but carried out with tremendous artistic vision and skill. Any teacher would certainly agree it's the best project ever produced about a 12.7-mile stretch of troublesome road. (www.asthmatickitty.com/the-bqe)

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