In "Bring On the Night," Sting recalls the day he was sitting in his hotel room in New York and heard the window washer outside whistling his song "Roxanne." He's sitting in his French cha teau, his hair nicely combed, his collar buttoned, and he tells you in his best schoolboy tones what a "privilege" it is to be able to reach people like that with his songs.
He once told the same story to Rolling Stone. But the punch line was no schoolboy's. The punch line was:
"That's market penetration."
And there, in a nutshell, you have the basic problem with "Bring On the Night," an overblown promo film, less documentary than flackumentary. Sting never appears anything but polite, deferential, humorous and, above all, articulate. Maybe that's true (though I doubt it), but it's not what you want to see. You really want to see Bob Dylan cruelly ripping into a cloddish interviewer, or see the guys from the Band, stoned out of their minds, mumbling incoherently about fixing the screen door. You don't want to hear Sting ruminating on his "philosophies about popular music" as if he were Michael Foot. If it's tidy and articulate, it's not rock 'n' roll.
The occasion for the movie is Sting's new band, composed mostly of black American jazz musicians; director Michael Apted's camera follows them through press conferences, rehearsals, dinners, childbirth (by Mrs. Sting) and, ultimately, their debut concert in Paris. The movie congratulates itself for depicting a beginning band, rather than an established one, a claim that's both disingenuous (they're not jamming in a garage, after all) and just plain dumb. You don't have to be reminded that this is a band just starting out -- you can just listen.
Like Prince, Sting has returned to late '60s pop for his inspiration. The music evokes Jethro Tull, Van Morrison, but mostly Stevie Winwood's Traffic; the lyrics, vaguely, tend to the "protest" variety. The result isn't all that interesting, although it's easy to see the attraction for Apted, long a sanctimonious goo-goo, British division. Interracial band; whining about nuclear war; score!
During the concert, Apted's technique is standard for a concert film: close-up of Sting; cut to medium close-up of drummer's hand; cut to crowd; cut back to Sting. By this time, it's just fill-in-the-performer; it could be, in fact, that the concert film has run its course.
There are some moments of life here, particularly the scenes in which Branford Marsalis twits the nouveau riche Sting as "the George Jefferson of Britain," then launches into the Flintstones theme (Sting looks stung). There are collages of nice still photographs by a fez-topped kook named Max, whom Sting praises as a "wonderful madman" because he's able to get him to loosen up, and who makes you wish that he, instead of Apted, had shot the movie.
And for perhaps three blissful minutes, there's Miles Copeland, Sting's manager, a hilarious posthippie blowhard of the old school -- he rams his words in your ear the way an artilleryman would tamp the gunpowder in his cannon. When the set designer explains that the concept is "Brechtian," Copeland bellows, "I'm sorry, I'm just a peasant, man, but I'm tellin' ya -- they look boring."
Bring On the Night, opening today at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains profanity and a scene of childbirth that may be troubling to children.