Director Doug Aitken's trick of turning 62 one-minute clips into a single feature turns out to be less a shattering of narrative than a segmentation. You can't really scrub linearity from a documentary about a train ride across the country -- especially when that doc bills itself as "a journey through modern creativity." In Station to Station, Beck, Ed Ruscha, Mavis Staples, William Eggleston, Patti Smith, No Age, Mark Bradford, and many other maker-types ride the train and/or participate in the "happenings" at its ten stops from Atlantic to Pacific, representing the mediums of art, music, film, and, er, "performance." (Token written-word rep: former New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones.)
The film is perhaps 60 percent landscape porn: moody clips of the American scenery or of the train, an orangey art-deco thing strung end to end with L.E.D.s, rolling by. Watching it streak through the Western night, ribbons of color cascading down its side against a cobalt landscape, will surely cause pangs of Kerouacian wanderlust. Sliced into teasing little bits are encounters and interviews -- Jackson Browne rhyming about Winslow, Arizona; a mechanic musing on the time-staying power of locomotion -- and many musical performances. A few, like Staples's, Dan Deacon's, and Thurston Moore's, are perfect. Often this feels like the most scenic music video ever. And hey, there's not a whiff of corporate branding here, unlike when these happenings actually happened. That helps make Station to Station an idealized vision of modern creativity, in which everything is moving and well lit and paid for, most everyone is beautiful, and the only real hang-up is that you eventually run out of landscape.