P.T. Anderson’s mesmerising hour-long shot-in-India documentary about the coming together of musicians to record an album is a musical dream transcending its raw, no-frills production.
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
2015 | USA/India | Documentary/Music | 54 mins | 1.78:1 | English, Hebrew, Hindi & Urdu
Not rated – likely to be PG13
Plot: Jonny Greenwood joins Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur on a trip to Rajasthan. In the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort, musicians of the Rajasthan Express work on Ben Tzur’s album.
International Sales: Ghoulardi Film Company
Subject Matter: Light/Uplifting – Culture, Music
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
A change of pace and scenery for the great P.T. Anderson, whose documentary here covers the recording of an album led by Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, with major support by the Indian musicians that make up the Rajasthan Express, and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (Anderson’s go-to composer) in an accompanying role.
Firstly, go get the album on CD or vinyl, or sample it on Spotify—it’s a dream for audiophiles and a stunning celebration of the richness of Indian music and its associated influences from the Manganiar community and Sufi Islam.
Then, go watch Anderson’s hour-long film, shot in the majestic centuries-old Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India.
Largely centered on the recording performances in full without any annoying cuts, Junun also gives us glimpses of picturesque views from within and outside of the fort.
When the musicians have to go to the city to get their instruments tuned, or to buy meat to feed the dozens of birds that swirl in the sky, we see images of bustling city life.
But make no mistake, Junun is not a travelogue; it also doesn’t fit into what we know about music documentaries.
It is a raw, no-frills production, shot using handheld digital cameras and drones—one might have expected something more formal or stately from Anderson, but here we see him operating like one of those birds in the sky, free to document however he wants and without any pressure to be creative.
Without any embellishments, the focus is strictly on the music. Anderson has been one of the world’s foremost directors of actors, squeezing out extraordinary performances from his cast for more than two decades.
Here, the performers self-direct themselves through their music-making, and the outcome is a transcendental musical dream.