The result is a raucous visual experience that captures the communal thrill
From its full, unprintable title on down, ''Awesome; I . . . Shot That!" is the anti-''Neil Young: Heart of Gold." Where the Jonathan Demme movie is elegiac, graceful, and unconcerned with audience shots, this one's in-your-face, of the moment, and filmed from the trenches. It's raucous and loud as hell; the hyperactive editing could trigger grand mal seizures.
It's a Beastie Boys concert movie -- what did you expect?
On Oct. 9, 2004, before the Beasties took to the stage of New York's Madison Square Garden as part of their ''Challah at Your Boy" tour, they handed out 50 Hi-8 digital video cameras to fans. The one rule: Keep shooting. Augmented by professional video footage shot onstage, the resulting document captures the concert from everywhere at once: the mosh pit and the nosebleed seats, the back of the hall and fifth row center. There are short trips to the bathroom and the concessions stand, and there's one poor slob who sneaks his camera backstage and almost gets locked out of the arena.
The songs come from all over the Beastie Boys' 20-year career, and if it's true that Adrock (Adam Horovitz), MCA (Adam Yauch) and Mike D (Michael Diamond) are getting pretty old for their bratty white-boy-rapper shtick to seem more than a pose, their love of a hard beat, a good sample, a sardonic rhyme, and -- this is important -- their audience keeps them honest. (For all that, the most stunning contribution may be that of DJ Mix Master Mike, who provides the musical grid on which the Beasties hang their raps and who works the booth like a Paderewski of the turntables.)
''Awesome" has a three-part structure. Early numbers like ''Triple Trouble" and ''Hello Brooklyn" are presented kinetically but straightforwardly, with gritty images beaming in from all over the Garden; when the Beasties divide the arena into thirds for a shout-along to ''Time to Get Ill," that ancient concert ploy gets a boost from our being in all parts of the audience (it's as if the camera itself were doing the wave).
The band members briefly retire and come back out dressed in wedding-band tuxedos and riding on a parade float, playing experimental (for them) jazz-funk-dub numbers from early-'90s albums such as ''Check Your Head" and ''Ill Communication." This segment is propulsive but formulaic, and it slows the film to a crawl despite the participation of percussionist Alfredo Ortiz and keyboardist Money Mark. The visuals get addled here with various color and solarization schemes, and the effect is a little too close to Pink Floyd night at the Lasarium.
In the film's final third, Mix Master Mike returns and the Boys pile-drive into hits from 1986's ''Brass Monkey" to 2004's ''An Open Letter to NYC," the latter a number that seals the group's pact with their hometown audience with a joyous, battle-scarred roar. When ''Awesome" visually skips among tens of thousands of people all rapping along to the thundering ''Paul Revere," it briefly unmoors a viewer's sense of self and captures the communal ecstasy of a rock concert better than any movie before it.
A pity, then, that the filmmakers keep futzing with the visuals, flipping to negative, leaching the color until everyone's a ghost, barraging the viewer with increasingly hyperactive editing-bay firestorms. (The only respite is when the screen fills with all the camera images at once, arranged in neat little rows like the compound eye of a housefly.) ''Nathaniel Hornblower," a.k.a. Yauch, is the credited director, but editor Neal Usatin is the movie's secret star, and he deploys his tools with the same kitchen-sink fervor that Mix Master Mike attacks his turntables. This is film-cutting as DJing -- it's unrestrained hip-hop bricolage -- and it can only go so far before you simply cry uncle.
Not that the Garden faithful care. ''Awesome" ends with the Beastie Boys dedicating the savage ''Sabotage" to George W. Bush and launching into the song's crunching punk riff. Let a thousand air guitars bloom, they seem to be saying, and so they do.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.