If you’re not already a fan of indie country crooner Bill Callahan, watching Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film will be like attending an hour-long set of a capable musician you’ll probably forget about by the next day.
Directed by Callahan’s partner, Hanly Banks, the misleadingly titled Apocalypse — actually the name of the singer’s 2011 album — is short on memorable visuals, ideas, and stories. Between performance excerpts from Callahan’s U.S. tour are too many filler shots of passing landscapes from the bus.
It’s like looking out the window from the back seat of a car while another passenger drones on with nebulous, slightly grandiose statements. “A year ago I decided that symbols were everything,” Callahan says by way of personal revelation between songs. “I love America and I feel like somebody needed to talk to her.”
With his speak-sing baritone, Callahan sounds a little bit like Johnny Cash, if the Man in Black wore a distortion pedal as a shoe and were fond of songs with structures as free as a tumbleweed. Always dressed in a proudly idiosyncratic seersucker suit but meekly averting his gaze, Callahan requests patience from his listeners — an entirely fair entreaty.
Banks seems to hope that merely spending time with her subject will somehow create an illusion of intimacy. But her film’s secretive opacity only makes Callahan a little prince, far away on his own planet.