Meet Me in the Bathroom
(USA, 105 min.)
Dir. Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace
Programme: Midnight (World Premiere)
Meet Me in the Bathroom energetically captures the pulse of a transformative generation in New York’s music scene. This all-archival doc assembles an electric collage of VHS recordings and lo-fi digital to explore how music spoke to a generation that grew up in the shadow of 9/11. Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace follow-up their hit concert doc Shut Up and Play the Hits with N invigorating study of an indie-alt milieu.
The doc considers the rise of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Moldy Peaches, TV on the Radio, The Strokes, Interpol and LCD Soundsystem. Featuring a mix of candid behind-the-scenes footage and grungy concert clips, Meet Me in the Bathroom draws inspiration from Lizzy Goodman’s book of the same name to explore how music articulated the melancholy and malaise of the late 1990s-early 2000s in a city transformed by tragedy.
Meet Me in the Bathroom seamlessly weaves between raw images of the musicians and news footage of the scene that fuelled them. In the spirit of the oral history of Goodman’s book, audio interviews overlay the images. It’s true to the “you had to be there” fashion of Boomer docs, but with crappier images. However, Southern and Lovelace clearly embrace the grainy deteriorated aesthetic. The “establishment” didn’t give a toot about the young people who created or found themselves in this music and the look reflects that.
From Y2K to Napster
The immersive experience illustrates the mix of fear and optimism that Millennials and Gen Xers navigated in turn-of-the-Millennium NYC. For one, there’s the pointless panic generated by YK2 as the prospect of time moving forward generated mass hysteria. Cut to 9/11 and, as images of planes hitting the Twin Towers repeated endlessly on TV, young people saw that fear was real. There’s a generation of people for whom excess paranoia, security, war, and polarization is the norm. Just as musicians gave voice to protest amid frustration with the Vietnam War, the NYC music scene articulated a sense of alienation.
Like many Boomer music docs, Meet Me in the Bathroom will inevitably speak differently to different generations of viewers. However, for audiences who grew up with this music, the doc offers an in-the-know overview of a scene coming to fruition. There’s James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem recalling how the band was breaking through, only to be crushed by Napster and the explosion of piracy it enabled. There’s Karen O discussing the challenges of breaking through as a biracial woman. Her testimony of not fitting in, yet being objectified, gives the doc some of its stronger moments. Paul Banks, meanwhile, wanders Manhattan as smoke and ash from the Twin Towers cloud the city. What this film captures is a turning point between hope and disenchantment. Music, for many, was the only outlet for anger, love, and hope. That’s probably true for any generation.