By its nature, a DVD shouldn't be more enjoyable with eyes closed. Speaking For Trees: A Film By Mark Borthwick is either a huge artistic conceit or a cheeky practical joke; either way, its soundtrack saves the day. The film essentially consists of one long static shot that captures Chan Marshall, the lone voice behind Cat Power, performing in a wooded area. The camera, grainy and arty, never gets close enough to show her facial expressions, but instead simply sits there, quietly watching Marshall sing and play guitar. Perhaps it's a comment on the singer's strange character and emotional distance, but more likely, it's a semi-interesting indulgence executed without regard for its potential audience.
Then there are Marshall's songs: Fragile, powerful, and otherworldly, even when strummed off the cuff out in the woods. She wanders around the frame, taking up perhaps 15 percent of it, playing her own compositions and an odd mix of covers (she swings twice each at "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and "Sophisticated Lady") to nobody. Apparently she likes it that way, becauseunlike the majority of her shows in front of audiencesshe doesn't break down or stop playing. Watching it can be frustrating, but just listening reveals why Marshall inspires reverence. The CD accompanying Speaking For Trees provides a similar mix of indulgence and magic: It features one hypnotic song, "Willie Deadwilder," that spirals slowly out to 18 minutes. Like the film it accompanies, it won't suit the casual or impatient.