The Pied Piper of Hützovina Review
The rock documentary traditionally fits into one of three categories. There’s the concert movie as exemplified by Woodstock, say, or Stop Making Sense. There’s the biographical option as seen, to use two recent examples, in Scott Walker: 30th Century Man and The Future is Unwritten (about Joe Strummer). And then there’s the more focused effort, taking on a single stage in an artist’s or band’s career, as with Metallica: Some Kind of Monster or D.A. Pennebaker’s seminal Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. Refreshingly, The Pied Piper of Hützovina, though slight and hardly the kind of film to make any grand claims about itself, doesn’t really fit any of these labels. It’s as much about its director Pavla Fleischer as it is about its ostensible subject, Eugene Hütz of self-stylised gypsy punk cabaret band Gogol Bordello. Prior to the making of this film Fleischer first met Hütz at a party in 2004. Home movie footage of a drunken car journey shows the pair a whale of a time and it was this which she wished to recreate. For her The Pied Piper of Hützovina is essentially a video diary as she attempts to rekindle whatever kind of relationship they first had (and however fleeting). For Hütz, however, it’s all about the music: a road trip across Eastern Europe as he gets back in touch with his gypsy roots.
The result is that Fleischer’s film is a schizophrenic beast. On the one hand she uses it as means of voicing her thoughts in a highly personal way; on the other she’s compelled simply to document, to record the music and people Hütz meets along the way. To her dismay the relationship never really goes anywhere - he brings along another woman to accompany him on part of the trip (and stipulates the condition that she not be filmed); she gets the impression that she’s being manipulated and has effectively “paid for his holidays” – and needless to say tensions are felt. Yet Fleischer has perhaps misjudged things if she expects the audience to side with her. The vast majority of those who will view The Pied Piper of Hützovina will surely be fans of Gogol Bordello and therefore Hütz himself; it’s a portrait of him they will be after and not that of an unknown filmmaker with potentially suspect motives for making this documentary. Furthermore Hütz is an incredibly charismatic figure, and his erratic nature is no doubt a major part of that charisma. Ultimately it’s far easier to forgive him than it is Fleischer.
Of course, the ‘first person’ documentary is hardly an under-populated genre thanks to the likes of Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield, Morgan Spurlock and Louis Theroux, yet in all their cases there does tend to be a genuine connection to the subject matter in some way meaning that the likes of Bowling for Columbine, The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife, Super Size Me and When Louis Met Jimmy (to use some of their most notable examples) all tell us something beyond just conveying the filmmaker’s personality. As such Fleischer sits uncomfortably in such a grouping; one of the initial areas of tension between her and Hütz is his feeling that she’s done little research. She never seems fully aware of where Hütz is taking her next or why and as a result The Pied Piper of Hützovina sometimes struggles when it comes to what is surely its most important area: the music. We get impromptu ‘jamming’ sessions, meetings with key figures (one being especially notable for the manner in which Gogol Bordello’s music – in this instance a piece of hip-hop crossover - is dismissed as, essentially, a bastardisation of Hütz’s gypsy roots), but very little in terms of context. How does this all fit together and where exactly is Hütz’s place in all this? Sadly, the film never really answers such questions and will perhaps be more rewarding to those with sufficient background. Furthermore, the final moments – in which we get to see the finale of a Gogol Bordello concert held in London – seem somehow shoehorned in; at once a concession to audiences who will no doubt be wishing for this kind of thing and an unwitting admittance on Fleischer’s part that she never really quite understands how we get from the meetings on the road trip to this. Indeed, another potential frustration for viewers will be the fact that The Pied Piper of Hützovina sheds little light on Gogol Bordello’s music – let alone gypsy music as a whole.
That said, there are some fascinating passages along the way – including rare insights into the gypsy camp lifestyle – and perhaps a slightly skew-whiff portrait of Hütz himself. A more conventional documentary may very well have smoothed the man over whereas Fleischer’s more personal approach does at least get a little closer. Whether this proves enough to entice fans of Gogol Bordello is an interesting question and one to which I’m not entirely sure of the answer. Certainly, it would be much wiser to spend your cash on one of their albums (or, indeed, a concert DVD where one out there), but as an aside it might just serve the die-hards.
Shot on DV, The Pied Piper of Hützovina looks pretty much as good as it should. The original 1.78:1 aspect ratio is in place and anamorphically enhanced, whilst the print itself is clean and sufficiently transferred onto disc. There are no overt problems and the same is true of the soundtrack. Again budgetary considerations need to be taken into account but the original stereo is successfully rendered and never struggles with either the music or the dialogue. Given that this dialogue is a mixture of English, Russian and Ukrainian, subtitles are a necessity and these come burnt into the image.
As for extras the disc is surprisingly packed. The ‘making of’ documentary isn’t too different from The Pied Piper of Hützovina itself: a lot of the footage is seen in the main feature and it too utilises Fleischer’s voice-over, though here the focus is more on how the film was made and the difficulties along the way. We also get ten music clips which offer fuller versions of those found in the final cut, a music video for Gogol Bordello’s ‘Start Wearing Purple’ single, the theatrical trailer and the pilot version of the movie made for potential financiers (essentially a combination of hype, concert footage and that drunken car journey which provided The Pied Piper of Hützovina with its starting point). (Note that in all cases the original 1.78:1 aspect ratios are not anamorphically enhanced.)