How do you capture the mystical, maddening and surreal world of Captain Beefheart within the medium of film? One way is to make an impressionistic documentary that has little reference point outside of its own surreality, which is exactly what film maker Anton Corbijn did with Some YoYo Stuff.
In 1993, Corbijn, known primarily at the time for his stark, grainy and beautiful photographs of rock stars, spent several days with Don Van Vliet (Beefheart) interviewing and photographing him. With the participation of Don’s mother and David Lynch, Corbijn constructed a film as dadaist as Captain Beefheart’s music. Van Vliet’s observations on life and his art are haiku-like in their succinct clarity and wit.
Penetrating the veil of Beefheart’s world was probably an impossibility. The best a documentarian could hope for is to approximate the mindset one enters in listening to Beefheart’s music. In other words, make a movie as trippy as the work of your subject. Van Vliet was remote, both figuratively and literally. As he got older he became increasingly reclusive. His writing and occasional communiques were like those of a modernist monk of the left hand school. He spoke in an ancient craggy voice that sounded like hollow bones being rubbed together. Corbijn’s film communicates the desert father aspect of Beefheart’s existence. There’s an otherworldliness about the whole thing that seems as though it is being beamed in from another planet.
Some YoYo Stuff is a fittingly offbeat tribute to one of the most uncompromising and innovative musicians of the 20th century. Captain Beefheart brought a kind of crazy wisdom to modern music.
Anton Corbijn describes the making of Some YoYo Stuff:
I love don. i knew very little about him when we first met in 1980, but after our meeting and subsequent photo shoot i went back home and started listening to his music, and soon started looking at his drawings and paintings. my respect for him grew as the years went by; we kept in touch, and i visited him and his wife jan a couple of times. these visits and the death of frank zappa were essential for me in terms of thinking about making some sort of film piece on don.
for shortly after zappa died, i was in a bookshop and realized how many books and bits of writing existed on him, and when i then went looking for anything similar on don i left the shop empty-handed. i felt that he deserved everyone’s attention and as i am not a writer, i figured i could maybe put something on film with him. it took me a while, but i did finally manage to say: ‘if you ever want me to make any sort of record or film about you, just let me know ‘cause i would love to do that’. he said: ‘yes, please’, and apparently had been waiting for years for me to ask, turning away others.
it was a simple affair to make the film: his mother sue opens the movie with the photograph that i took when don and i first met, saying: ‘this is don, my son’, and, apart from david lynch (famous film maker - t.t.) asking him a few questions via projected film, it is all don’s thoughts on various matters. some funny, some serious, but all sharp, poetic and beautiful. you really want to hear every single word he says - whether it’s about paint, miles davis, an ear (‘nice sculpture’) or the desert.
i recorded his words separately. and then filmed him sitting in front of a film projection i had made in and around the desert and edited it all together in a way that i hoped was in keeping with his world. he supplied me with two never-used bits of music, one of which is an instrumental that i made into a one-minute music-video without don, using a mackerel instead. this was the first bit of the film i showed him, and he was rolling around with laughter, and it was after that i dared let him see the rest.
apart from showing the world at large what a unique man and artist don is, i really wanted to make it great for hím, as he is also a warm and funny guy and i do think the film brings that across.”