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Movie Review: Three Hams In A Can

By Mike Everleth ⋅ December 22, 2009

Three young musicians walk down a street in Japan

TV travel shows and concert films pretty much fulfill the same function: To show you how much your life sucks because you’re not somewhere else. Keeping that function in mind, filmmaker Kenta McGrath completely upends the traditional format of both travel shows and concert films for his charmingly casual, laid-back documentary Three Hams in a Can.

Normally, both the host of a travel show and a band in a concert film aggressively lead the viewer around, grabbing the audience by the neck and saying, “Look at me and the awesome places I’m going.” But, in Three Hams in a Can, the musicians are a trio of Australian noise rockers — Chris Cobilis, Predrag Delibasich, Stina Thomas — who are touring around Tokyo and have no interest in showing the viewer anything interesting on their trip. That doesn’t mean that McGrath doesn’t show us anything interesting. In fact, his film is fascinating.

What’s different about this documentary from others of its ilk is that McGrath treats the viewer as if he is a member of the band, a quiet member who is palling around with the group, taking in the sights and experiences with no commentary or direction. They also don’t go to any touristy sightseeing locations. They wander the Tokyo streets, stop into stores, visit a park, get into an overly stuffed subway car, etc. And we’re there with them, taking in the sights without really knowing exactly what we’re looking at, but it’s all foreign and interesting. Not “foreign” because we’re in Tokyo, but “foreign” because we’re in a new, exciting place.

By keeping the viewer at an emotional distance throughout the film, Three Hams in a Can provides a more genuine experience of what it’s really like to travel than those shows that lead viewers by the nose. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also disorienting and a little bit lonely.

There’s an extended sequence of a barbecue taking place in a private home that the musicians visit. There’s some sort of connection between the group and the owners of the home, obviously, but it’s never quite spelled out what that connection is. There’s an initial awkward period of everyone getting to know each other, but eventually pleasantries eventually evolve into actual conversation. It’s a fun gathering where even McGrath becomes a participant instead of just an observer. The viewer can get into the good time vicariously, too, but there’s that distance of not really feeling closely connected to the event. We are welcome into the home, but we cannot truly feel a part of it, too.

The concert footage segments of the film are equally discordant, which is especially enhanced by the type of music performed by the traveling trio. Noise rock is purposefully — and cheerfully — chaotic and anti-melody. It is not soothing or invigorating. Well, that might be too harsh a judgment as the genre’s fans might disagree, but it’s not far to assume that the sounds will grate on most audience’s sense of what music should and could be.

However, the concert footage segments are few and far between and, again, put the audience at a distance. And not just because of the non-music, too. But the noise rock shows are the opposite of what we expect a concert to be. The shows are very subdued and appear to operate on an intellectual, rather than an emotional level. The travelers trade stories, news and views of other noise rock bands with fellow musicians in calm and rational tones. Apparently, the noise rock lifestyle isn’t just anti-melody, but it’s also anti-rock musician pretense.

Three Hams in a Can is the anti-travel and concert documentary, yet more genuine and truthful about both those topics than familiar exercises in the genres.

Watch the Three Hams in a Can movie trailer:

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