Quick reviews of documentaries I been likin’ lately
Hip-Hop Colony: The African Hip-Hop Explosion. Of course I loved this documentary, if only because it satisfied my longing for Swahili/Sheng for 1.5 happy hours. I absolutely loved its narrative arc — hip-hop’s arrival in East Africa and subsequent transformation, plus all the exclusive bedroom-footage of Kenyan homeboyz gettin’ their freestyles on. The last part of the film discussed some of the music industry’s setbacks, and why local Kenyan artists have such a hard time getting their careers off the ground. The film brought briefly to light some of the twisted politics of Nairobi’s radio world, and the capriciously-curated media flows of the city, which is an issue I’ve been researching in the context of Dar es Salaam over the last few months. Definitely a good watch, despite being ever so slightly outdated (made in ‘07). Here is the bad quality trailer:
RIP : A Remix Manifesto. Even though I agree with almost everything in this doc, Brett Gaylor (web activist and media lover) made a film that is tilted and jilted, mad at the man and shamelessly propagandic. On the other hand, this documentary is really playful, really free, and made me reconsider the moral (dis)implications of artistic license and creative freedom. The whole movie is done in remix-style — mashups of songs, movie clips, images and interviews, all probably ripped without permission. It heavily featured two defenders of remix culture: the deejay/ remixer Girl Talk (I’ve seen him!) and the Stanford academe and activist Lawrence Lessig. RIP hails the arrival of a new era of media freedom and the democratic hollowing-out of old copyright systems. It frames the entertainment industry as a Big Brotherish greed-machine, desperately clinging to its last shreds of power and influence. In one section, it portrayed people and families (including pastor’s kids and single moms) who were sued for hundred of thousands of dollars for downloading a few illegal songs. While those interviews were supposed to provoke indignation, they just made me paranoid all over again about illegal downloads. Luckily for us, the movie can be downloaded legally and for free at this site. Here is the trailer:
The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy. I watched this one several months ago, but it’s stayin’ fresh in my mind, and I remember thinking Crazy Legs was the most beautiful human being I’d ever seen (when he was breakdancing and when he was just talking). I think this film did a good job of repping the multipart reality of hip-hop, and it had some crazy footage from the first hip-hop throwdowns on Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx — images that gave an adrenalized, visceral, immediate impression of what that era mighta felt like. The focus was obviously on b-boying/breakdancing, and the last part of the documentary zoomed out to take in the global b-boy scene, which I loved. See a preview of the documentary here.
Scratch (A Turntablism Documentary). This was actually very similar to ‘The Freshest Kids’ in its treatment of hip-hop: interviewing the “originals” and incorporating rare footage from ye olden days. This film had much more of an emphasis on deejaying as opposed to breakdancing, and Qbert featured prominently as one of the prodigy-pioneers of the scratchin’ technique. The last third of the film focused a little more closely on the record retail industry and record-hunting as one oft-overlooked component of deejay-ism. Exciting & informative. Watch the trailer here: