Sundance 2022 Review: MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM, Culturally Loaded Artifact
Meet Me In The Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of the New York music scene that emerged from the ashes of the 20th century, is essential rock-and-roll reading for anyone with an even passing interest in modern pop culture… and not just those with a vested interest in the early NY bands that bridged the gap between the record industry, as it had essentially existed since its inception, and the indie boom that grew out of the cataclysmic wake of online downloading in the not too distant future.
Not so unlike how Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, in tracing the rise of the New Hollywood ethos also captured the downfall of the once impenetrable classic Hollywood institution, in detailing the ascent of bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and LCD Soundsystem, (not to mention the umpteen other worthy-of-adoration bands of the era), Goodman’s book by default covers some of (if not) the most hyperactive handful of years, not only in the history of New York, but arguably global culture as a whole. This makes the work an epic in scope, providing much more than just another entry in the story of the New York underground, picking up the punk thread where Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me left off.
The 600-page book covers so much ground, in fact, that one might consider it cinematically unadaptable, certainly outside the realm of a mini-series deep dive. Yet filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace have somehow managed to do just this with their 105 minute telling, which impressively evokes the end of an era by zeroing in on its beginnings; its heyday in a city renowned for playing host to many a holy heyday throughout the great circle game of time, art, and commerce.
Before Southern and Lovelace's Meet Me In The Bathroom begins in earnest, it prefaces the proceedings with the poetic words of Walt Whitman giving voice to the rich revolving door of “forever faces” who, generation after generation, sought in the original metropolis, “comrades and lovers by the thousand!” in their quest for their own slice of the great NYC bohemian narrative. From here, we’re plunked into the semi-recent past times of 1999, where two spritely youths called The Moldy Peaches film themselves recording a composition they’ve entitled ‘Downloading Porn With Davo’.
Their faces are as fresh as the technical quality of the pre-digital revolution footage is dated and, considering the gravity of the times-a-changin’ around the bend, the clip becomes priceless in its innocent ignorance. Singing about the relatively new Internet novelty, young Kimya and a much younger Adam are blissfully unaware of the impact downloading will have on their chosen industry. Or what online attention from the new breed of journalists calling themselves ‘bloggers’ will do for their exposure. They also have no idea how radically the world’s attention would soon shift to their city once the most defining moment of terrorism in America kicked off the 21st century.
Meanwhile, who knew that cell phones, which were just beginning to become commonplace, would end up changing the face, not only of documentation, but of society at large? It is in a large part thanks to these primitive pocket filming devices that Meet Me In The Bathroom is able to offer such a comprehensive collage of how it looked and felt to live and experience music in the early aughts at the dawn of tomorrow’s crowning technologies at a time when footage was far from a given.
Today, saturated as we are with visual evidence of seemingly everything that happens, we feel almost entitled to footage of any and all remotely important events that occur throughout the world. It’s becoming increasingly easy to forget that the pop culture documentary, as it existed in the 20th century, was a privileged window into a moment that its audience will always be lucky to be watching. Nowadays, if a subject is of pop interest, footage is expected.
With that in mind, Meet Me In The Bathroom is a charmingly evocative dirty-digital patchwork quilt made of relics of yesterday’s tech-stamped memories that, like all great documentaries, effectively reminds us how every era has its medium; not only its own cultural visual presentation, but a texture, care of how it's captured. Inherently, it’s an essential companion piece to the book because it does with its medium what the written word (transcribed, in this case) cannot. And thankfully, for the sake of both posterity and high-entertainment, it does it damn well!
In Southern and Lovelace’s masterfully seamless presentation of these baby-faced icons - whose baby-faces only seem baby from the rearview mirror of retrospect - the audience walks away not only with a privileged window into a specific collectively enjoyed once-in-a-lifetime period, but with a wistful air of nostalgia for all once-in-a-lifetime, flash-in-a-pan sparks of time in general; for being young, reckless, inspired, audacious, and on the cusp of some unknown promise.
Armed with this spiritual ambition, the film manages to evoke the continuum with a sort of distant omniscience that ties its story into the great scheme of once-in-a-lifetime scenes that came before it, NY or UK or otherwise, all the while nodding at the ‘forever faces’ just waiting to be born into some unfathomable exploding inevitable party of tomorrow.
In terms of a final analysis, I believe time is the only real barometer of a work’s value. But if I had to guess, I’d wager that Meet Me In The Bathroom will serve as one beautifully badass artifact.
Meet Me in the Bathroom
- Will Lovelace
- Dylan Southern