Sufjan Stevens has become something of the elusive yeti of indie rock, popping up from time to time to turn in a Christmas album, lurking in the audience at unexpected shows, booking himself on an impossible tour of instantly sold-out small venues. So it was nice to see him, genial and in the flesh, at 92Y Tribeca on Saturday for the premiere screening of the DVD for “The BQE,” his film and “cinematic suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Hula-Hoop.”
Commissioned by BAM, “The BQE” first screened for three nights in November 2007, with 36 performers providing a live soundtrack. It’s since grown into a multi-media project. The only live music on Saturday came before the film, from singer-songwriter DM Stith and string quartet Osso, who performed arrangements of songs from Stevens’ electronica album “Enjoy Your Rabbit.” Which, the guy sitting next to me, who’d also been at the BAM event, assured me was really for the better — on the DVD, the music and film met up perfectly, whereas such timing proved a lot trickier when dealing with a backing orchestra.
And timing is everything for “The BQE,” a triptych of carefully assembled 16mm footage that tries to turn the concrete and traffic of what Stevens has described as “one of the world’s ugliest expressways” into art, using time-lapse, mirror effects and a trio of lazily hula-hooping girls to provide chapter breaks. “We spent, like, nine months of our lives on the BQE filming this,” Stevens said of the film, which is meandering and sometimes lovely, with a lot of the feel of letting yourself get mesmerized by the flow of cars past an overpass on a sunny afternoon, and gains a lot from his soaring score.
“The BQE” is now on sale, in various formats, some including the Stevens-penned “Hooper Heroes” comic book (!) and a View-Master stereoscopic image reel, via Asthmatic Kitty Records. The trailer:
[Additional photo: Crop of “The BQE” poster, photographed by Denny Renshaw and designed by David Stith]