Station to Station has a reasonably intriguing premise: A train travels from New York to San Francisco, and over the 24 days this takes, various artists and musicians are brought aboard to contribute their thoughts on, and expressions of, creativity. Beck, Jackson Browne, and Patti Smith all hop on at one point or another. The result is a series of 62 one-minute films that use the train and its journey as a muse. But my hope that the documentary would be good was dampened very early on, as the title cards referred to the project as “a happening.”
“A happening.” And different events that the train brings to cities along its route are also “happenings.” That’s the kind of grammatically bothersome buzzwording that I’ve learned to treat with suspicion when it shows up in relation to art. That doesn’t feel like the kind of term genuinely innovative performance artists would use; it’s more the purview of people who sure do like the trappings of performance art, but can’t be bothered to concoct thoughtful examples. The brevity of each artist’s contribution certainly makes for an interesting challenge, but it also encourages such shallowness.
Indeed, almost none of these short films provoke any thought. Many barely qualify as proper films even in the avant-garde sense. Repetitiveness sets in early, as one vignette after another wastes precious time reminding us of the project’s setup. One artist’s thoughts on art are often indistinguishable from another’s, and they are near-uniformly pat and non-revelatory. An awful lot of shorts are content to be nothing more than snippets of musical performances. There are spikes of interest; I was quite entranced by a man rapping in an auctioneer’s rapid-fire cadence. But those bits are scattered far apart.
The overall effect of Station to Station is a messy hodgepodge of half-assed effort. The indie film and music aspects will tempt many to brand this a “hipster” effort. But even if that term weren’t nearly meaningless by now (I’ve heard way too many completely different things derided as being “hipster”), the film’s impression is better described as artificial in the manner of a corporate interpretation of artisticness. Most of the one-minute films look, sound, and feel more like commercials than anything else. More than any of those shorts, the knowledge that the Station to Station project was sponsored by Levi’s helps make sense of this documentary’s existence. It’s not about creativity in any honest sense; it’s about “creativity” in the nebulous way that an ad for jeans flatters young people for being “creative” as a way of pushing a lifestyle brand. Don’t trust any of it.
The rapping auctioneer is pretty cool, though.