“As a side note, MEEK’S CUTOFF is so real feeling and looking that I suspect Kelly may have stolen our plans and completed work on a time-machine that we had been putting the finishing touches on, and that MEEK’S is actually a documentary that she went back and shot in 1845. If anyone has any evidence to that effect, please contact me directly ASAP. My email address is any@oscilloscope.net ” – Adam Yauch, 1964-2012

KROQ Weenie Roast 2004

The quotation above is from a press release from 2010, when Adam Yauch’s Oscilloscope Laboratories picked up Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff for distribution.  I don’t really make a habit of reading indie film distribution press releases, but I’m pretty sure most of them don’t contain one tiny fraction of the enthusiasm, curiosity, and above all fun that this one practically oozes.  I love Meek’s Cutoff, but even I’d be hard-pressed to make it sound fun.  Beautiful, sure; riveting, definitely; but only MCA could imagine an hour and forty-five minutes of people looking for water as the result of a time-traveling adventure.Which is not to say that he undersells the seriousness of the movie, or turns it into something it’s not.  Above all, what’s clear from this press release is that Yauch, who passed away today of cancer of the salivary gland, loved movies.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any serious Beastie Boys fans out there: dude was a serious cinephile.  It’s not for nothing that the Beasties are the only musical group to have a DVD of their music videos released by Criterion; their video output was tremendously inventive, featuring some of the best work of Spike Jonze, as well as the videos Yauch directed himself under the alias Nathanial Hörnblowér.

I’m sure the Internet will be inundated this weekend with writings about the Beastie Boys’ music.  Suffice it to say that it’s great.  They have one of the most consistently terrific bodies of work in the last few decades of music: the first five albums are classics, and the two that followed did nothing to diminish their reputation, and even expanded their artistic palette.  It’s near impossible to choose a favorite record by them, but I generally go back and forth between Paul’s Boutique (most consistently brilliant) and Ill Communication (best singles).  I could go on about how the group’s fusion of rap, funk, rock, comedy, junk food, Buddhism, and sound collage reshaped popular music, or how “Sabotage” is the greatest driving song of all time (so much so that JJ Abrams was confident kids would still be joyriding to it whenever Star Trek takes place), or how Mike D’s sister-in-law was my middle school Latin teacher, but I digress (this is a film blog).

Since 2008, Yauch’s Oscilloscope Laboratories has put out a hugely impressive array of titles that includes, in addition to the aforementioned Cutoff, Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Howl, A Film Unfinished, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Exploding Girl, Treeless Mountain, Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, and Bellflower.  I haven’t seen many of the aforementioned titles, but those I have seen have included some of the best films of recent years (Cutoff, Exit Through the Gift Shop) and even those I don’t like demonstrate a remarkable willingness to take a chance on something less passionate companies wouldn’t touch.  Who knows how Yauch’s passing will effect Oscilloscope’s business model, but this year we can look forward to Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights and the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, among others.  Between Yauch and Bingham Ray, this year has taken away two of an increasingly rare breed: distributors who clearly love the movies.

I haven’t seen either of Yauch’s feature films, Beastie Boys concert film Awesome: I F**kin’ Shot That! or basketball doc Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, but his video output demonstrates that his approach to film was close to his approach to music: complete enthusiasm.  Just look at the fisheye lenses, handmade effects, and time lapse photography of his video for Intergalactic and try to remember the last time you saw someone having this much fun with a camera.

If Yauch’s work had been limited to his film distribution and video projects, today would already be a terrible day.  Now more than ever cinema needs people willing to explore, take chances, and champion projects they’re passionate about.  The fact that he was also a key member of one of the greatest hip-hop, nay, musical acts of all time makes it unbearably sad.  Here’s to a giant of music and indie film alike: brilliant, explorative, and, above all, cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.
                                                                             —Will Noah