Monday, April 25, 2011

Take it or "Leave It": Yes 9012 Live

Expectations were low for Steven Soderbergh's feature debut, but 1985's Yes 9012 Live turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  Too young to remember the British band Yes in their 70's prog-rock heyday, I associate them primarily with their brief mid 80's comeback, where they produced their one and only #1 single "Owner of a Lonely Heart."  They followed this up with another minor radio hit, "Leave It" (Yes, the title of this post is meant as a pun), and found themselves with a successful comeback album, 90125.  Although Yes would continue to tour and record into the 21st century, they would never again duplicate the kind of commercial success they enjoyed in 1984.  In addition, my research revealed that the pop-rock sound Yes created on 90125 was one they abandoned and never revisited on future projects. 

If you're a Yes fan, this embues Soderbergh's debut feature with an added dose of historical significance, as it would appear to be the only document of this period of the band's history.  But since this is a blog about Soderbergh, not Yes, let's examine what the director did with his first big assignment.

The concert film is a tricky beast, as it's difficult to replicate the energy of a live performance for those who aren't in the room.  From a technical standpoint, multiple cameras and skillful editing are also required to effectively capture a band's live dynamic.  Whether or not Soderbergh was able to recreate the magic of Yes live, is something I'll leave to the faithful to decide(for the record, the film was nominated for a Grammy).  What fascinates, over 20 years later, is how actively the young director tried to put his own distinctive stamp on the project. 

Rather than filming one Yes show from beginning to end, Soderbergh shot the band over two nights at the Skyreach Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. Using a technique that foreshadows some of his later work in The Limey, Soderbergh decided to incorporate footage from A Young Man's Fancy, a short film from 1952 in which a young man prefers household electric appliances to girls.  9012 Live begins with a clip from the film, in which the girl requests her beau to "play something groovy", which then segues into performance footage of Yes in Edmonton.    Additional clips from the film (without sound) are interspersed throughout the band's performance, and Soderbergh clutters things up even further by using 80's tastic video effects from design firm Charlex.  If you remember the villains from Superman II hurtling through space, you'll be pretty close to the effects on display.

These aesthetic touches brought a sharply divided response from Yes fans.  So much so, that when 9012 Live was released on DVD in 2006, Soderbergh agreed to revisit the project.  The result is a bonus feature "director's cut" in which the Charlex effects are removed, and Yes fans can watch Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, et al, in all their unadulterated glory. 

The DVD also includes a behind the scenes documentary directed by Soderbergh entitled "Access All Areas," but since I watched the film on Netflix Instant Streaming, I...couldn't access it.  If I am able to get my hands on a physical copy of 9012 Live in the future, this entry will be updated.

All in all, how much the viewer takes away from Yes 9012 Live depends on your opinion of the band.  But at just over an hour, it goes by quickly enough, and it offers a fascinating glimpse of a young director eager to get his career off the ground.

One final note: Anyone looking for an 80's group Halloween costume should look no farther than the members of Yes in 9012 Live.

Yes 9012 Live is currently available to watch via Netflix Instant Streaming.  The DVD can be purchased from

Next Up: Soderbergh breaks through with sex, lies and videotape

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