Liberated Astronaut

A Moving on Music Festival screening introduces the wierd and wonderful Tom Zé

In a world over-saturated with music and sound, it is important that there are visionaries out there who understand the real magic that helps to separate the wheat from the chaff. Tom Zé is one such visionary. Ígor Iglesias González’s documentary about the Brazilian musician, Liberated Astronaut - shown at Queen's Film Theatre as part of the Moving on Music Festival - aims to show us exactly why this is the case.

Often associated with the Tropicalia movement of the late 1960s, which spawned the likes of Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil, Zé managed to be the black sheep in a movement that preached artistic and political tolerance. He stuck with his contemporaries briefly - learned from them - before moving off into his own creative hemisphere.

Emerging in the mid 60s as a pioneer of the ‘journalism in song’ style, he chronicled life in Sao Paulo before being seduced by a world of creative experimentation to great critical acclaim. Sadly, however, by the 70s, Zé had entered a period of commercial obscurity, shunned by the public and his contemporaries alike.

A chance discovery of one of his albums by Talking Heads’ David Byrne led to a creative and commercial re-birth in the 90s, and since then, Zé has rightly been regarded as a national treasure, an inspiration to his countrymen, and a beacon for those outside of Brazil who want to explore the music of that fascinating country.

González’s film manages to match the feverish animation of Zé the individual. He is a manic figure who, at the age of 71 during the film’s production, seems to be possessed by lightning, his slight frame struggling to contain the creative energy flowing through him.

Whether in concert, or discussing music theory with his students, the camera does its best to keep up with Zé. When his wife and manager Neusa describes him as being completely obsessed and dominated by music, it is no exaggeration: even the man's walk is rhythmic.

Through a series of animations, and a wealth of archive and concert footage, Liberated Astronaut captures Zé with an irreverence he would appreciate. This is a warm and affectionate portrait of a man finally acknowledged by his country as an important artistic figure.

Whether he is documenting the roadworks of Sao Paulo, constructing his own hand-crafted sequencer (long before such a thing seemed like a viable musicial possibility), or trying to find a new way of expressing things vocally, Zé is never without passion for his subject. Watching this insightful, affectionately made documentary film, it's hard not to be passionate about him too.