The Rise of the Synths (2020)

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Rise Of the Synths Banner

Screening as part of the 2020 Perth Revelation Film Festival’s COUCHED online line-up from July 9th-19th. To purchase tickets, see schedules and additional information visit the official page HERE 

RevCouched Revelation Film Festival 2020


A review by Adam Lovett

Writer/Director: Ivan Castell
Starring: John Carpenter, Carpenter Brut, Power Glove, Gunship, Miami 1984, Stallone 80, Gost

Nostalgia. In 2020 it’s a term that tends to be assigned as criticism. A shorthand for derivative, vapid art aimed at an audiences arrested development. Living in the past and achieving entertainment value only for those cursed by it. So, before I even begin this review let me just confess that around the neon soaked virtual halls of Film Frak the word “nostalgia” is not a negative in and of itself. How can it be when anyone who listens to our podcast knows of our undying love for synth soundtracks, the age of VHS tapes and the pop culture of our childhoods. Just listen to that Tim Fife original theme music opening every show. Hell, both of us took a road trip to see John Carpenter live in NYC only a couple of years back. My point, only to contextualize that I’m the target audience for this film.

Now let’s begin discussing THE RISE OF THE SYNTHS.

Nostalgia. It’s the driving force, the primary influence behind the Synthwave movement that is being examined in this crowd funded documentary. Every individual featured is unashamedly, nay proudly fuelled by nostalgia for the 80’s, its cinema scores and aesthetics. Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Goblin etc. are soundscape Gods to be emulated.

As the movie opens, we hop in a time travelling DeLorean (of course) piloted by the ‘synth rider’ (Rubén Martínez). An audio tape is popped into the cars’ cassette player and the familiar voice of his holiness, John Carpenter announces he will be our narrator for the duration of this sonic journey. Our first stop, the present day.

Here we meet an assortment of big names associated with and defining the retro Synthwave. Australia’s own Melbourne based duo Power Glove, France’s enigmatic Carpenter Brut, London’s 80’s Stallone, Canada’s Miami Nights 1984, Gost out of Texas and many more. This opening chapter plays like a mix-tape of introductions, a somewhat random array of talking heads explaining how they define the genre. It’s made clear this is a synthesized musical passion that is growing and entering the mainstream courtesy of film, TV and videogame scores like DRIVE, STRANGER THINGS and IT FOLLOWS.

From there we take quantum leaps back and forth in time tracing the origins of rebirth and the roots, the original pioneers that have resonated so strongly among these Moog lovin’ aficionados.

It’s agreed that it was around 2009 via the Myspace era that this throwback to the decade of MIAMI VICE, Sly Stallone and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK really awakened. These were artists yet to discover that others shared their passion. That were, and in most cases still do it for the love of the era.

It’s fascinating that though these artists are from all around the globe, in many cases unaware of each others existence beyond social media, they share personality traits that transcend their native language, culture or geography. The obvious one is the aforementioned nostalgia, but equally prevalent is the guises of anonymity many choose. For some the Daft Punk style mystery is a “fashion” choice. Others claim it’s in aide of focusing on the music, not the identity. Some it seems allows the freedom to create without being individually judged.

That the film doesn’t dive into the psychology behind these traits, the tribalism and hive mind that seems to have emerged without external individual contact seems like a missed opportunity to truly explore the essence of the those composing the sound.. While the film admittedly tries, an examination of 80’s nostalgia seems long overdue in this READY PLAYER ONE age too. It would have been compelling to hear a more objective academic voice postulating on the phenomenon. There is no denying the film at times offered a somewhat uncomfortable mirror for this viewer that could have been exploited to add psychological dimension.

Writer/Director Ivan Castell clearly has a love for his subject. He understands the appeal of the music and neon lights, it’s pulsing electronic soundtrack and cinematography used effectively to create a layered atmosphere brimming with appropriate aesthetic appeal. However, it’s non-linear telling at times feels muddled rather than amplifying it’s aims.

Ultimately the film caters to its target demographic almost exclusively. Those unfamiliar with the synth wave revolution may find this a worthwhile primer but its those already established devotees that are truly going to get the most joy and for them it is must-see. I may have already known Carpenter Brut, Gunship and Kravinsky but would be lying if I didn’t admit to excitedly writing down a few new names from the end credits to source out once the film was done. Now to find that soundtrack…preferably on cassette!

Watch the trailer for THE RISE OF THE SYNTHS


2 comments to The Rise of the Synths (2020)

  • Geo  says:

    Thanks for this review! Adding this to my “must watch” list.

    • FilmFrak  says:

      You’re welcome. Will you be watching it as part of Rev Couched?

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