Rockers and Rollers. Movies Reviewed: Search and Destroy: Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power; You Left Me Blue; Carnival; Holy Rollers

Posted in African-Americans, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Movies, Music, Punk, US by on June 12, 2010

Every so often you get to see fans gathering together to see their heroes from all over the world perform. (No, I’m not talking about the World Cup.) There’s also a huge — monumentally huge – event / festival / conference / I don’t know what you call it, but it’s a mammoth music thing happening, starting next week in downtown Toronto called NXNE. So why am I talking about music instead of movies? Because it’s a festival that doesn’t just have 600-plus bands performing just about everywhere (with free concerts at Dundas and Yonge), but it also has interactive media, and yes, lots of movies, more than 40, all about the independent and alternative music industry. Here’s a taste at some of the movies they’ll be showing.

“Search and Destroy: Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power”

Dir: Morgan Neville

Iggy and the Stooges is often called the first punk band ever. Iggy Pop (who would always perform, writhing google-eyed on the stage, without a shirt on), took the opposite path of the heavily produced progressive rock of the 70’s. From Ann Arbor, Michigan, Iggy Pop and his band The Stooges were never huge, but were very influential, with a lot of die-hard fans. This 45 minute documentary traces the band’s history, how they made it big, (thanks in part to David Bowie), how they crashed and burned and fell out of sight, and how they have recently started touring again, for a new, young audience.

The movie — like many rock documentaries – mainly consists of shots of him on stage, in concert, or in the recording booth mixing stuff. But he’s such an entertaining, uncensored, foul-mouthed rocker, he’s fun to watch and listen to. I’ve always liked his music. You can check out the movie at NXNE (and catch them live, outside at Dundas Square in Toronto on June 19th.)

“You Left Me Blue”

Dir: Chris Terry, Ross Edmunds

Back in the days when Queen St. West was concentrated around the low-end bars, diners, office equipment places, and used bookstores; when it was still a bit unseemly, long before it became the outdoor shopping mall it is today, the cool part of Queen West stretched from University to a little past Spadina… it was the centre of some of the new kinds of music in the 70‘s. So in clubs like the Rex, The Beverley Tavern, the Rivoli, Horseshoe, and the Cameron, (aside from the people there just for the very cheap glasses of beer) musicians, lots of ‘em, were playing rock, punk, jazz, art house, and pop music.

And right in the middle of all this was the anomaly known as Handsome Ned, the country singer. He wore the requisite bandana and denim, the yokel straw cowboy hat, sometimes with bales of hay on the stage, and he played a harder edged, traditional country music – Hank Williams type, (senior, not junior) with a tinge of rockabilly between all the yippee-ay-oh–kye-yays.

Rockabilly was having a revival around then; country, on the other hand, most decidedly was not. So Handsome Ned was a real oddball flouting what everyone else deemed as cool. But he definitely had his street cred, and he performed with musicians from great Toronto bands (like the Demics).

This Toronto documentary lovingly looks at recovered recordings and old, low-grade video footage of him, admirers, fans and fellow musicians. It’s not a gripping 80-minute doc, but it is a loving one. Tragically, Ned Masyk, with his endearing crooked smile and acoustic guitar, died of a drug overdose about 25 years ago, but his legacy lives on. So now that people can wear checked shirts on the streets of Toronto without being stared at, now that there are trendy clubs that specialize in the very music Handsome Ned pioneered, it’s nice to see a low-key, low-budget tribute like “You Left me Blue” to show who started it all, and to fill in some of the gaps in local music history.


Dir: Don Letts

In the late 1950’s, in Nottinghill, London, in response to rioting white teddy boys, the locals, mainly immigrants from the Caribbean, started up a music parade in the streets, known simply as Carnival—very much like Toronto’s Caribana – but at the same time very different.

This 45 minute documentary told me a lot of things I didn’t know. They say it’s the biggest street carnival in Europe… and I’d never heard of it. It brings up the amazing fact that it was Enoch Powell – the British Conservative Party minister – the man who made the notorious, racist anti-immigration Rivers of Blood speech in 1968 – was the minister who called for people from the crumbling former empire to come to Great Britain to work in the factories.

This is a really great documentary by British movie and video director, and DJ, Don Letts. He’s the guy who put together Big Audio Dynamite in the 80’s, and one of the few people who bridged two very different musical genres. You can tell he’s very close to the people he puts in his movie — not the cold rent-a-heads you see in a lot of docs. I really like this kind of movie because it’s not just musicians talking about how great (or how debauched or drugged out) other musicians are. He takes vintage footage – TV, film, photos, super 8, video – and seamlessly ties them together with a constantly shifting soundtrack of calypso, ska, reggae, soca, punk, hip hop, dancehall, sound machine, toasting… just about everything to keep you abreast of the fifty years of Carnival the movie covers. He shows the incredible musical fecundity spilling out of Carnival… and the periodic (anti-police) rioting that occurred every 20 years or so.

Really fascinating speakers talk about the fair’s history, not just superficial memories but really incisive, politically apt commentary. And it’s also strong on the musical side, with people like one of my favourite DJs of all time, Norman Jay; Paul Simenon (The Clash), Jazzy B (Soul II Soul); along with a host of British politicians, intellectuals, and journalists – I don’t know who they all are exactly, but they’re great to listen to.

OK, enough rocking – here’s some rolling. Holy rolling.

“Holy Rollers”

Dir. Kevin Asch

“Holy Rollers” is a drama based on a true story about an actual MDMA-smuggling ring in the late 90’s that used naïve, Chassidic boys as their international drug mules.

Jesse Eisenberg, (Squid and the Whale, Zombieland, Adventureland) plays Sam Gold, a cherubic, rosy- cheeked, ultra-orthodox Jewish boy, (with blonde prayer curls, big hat, black clothes, sort of Amish-looking) from a poor family in Brooklyn. His life is all set up for him. He studies hard but he’s not a great student. He’ll work in his father’s little cloth store on Delancey street in the Lower East Side, and they’re setting him up withy a bride (she tells him she wants eight kids) and there’s no touching, not even hand-holding, before marriage.

But right next door is the sleazy ne’erdowell religious school drop-out Yosef (Justin Bartha). The houses in this tight knit community are really close together, so Sam can see him through his bedroom window. Yosef watches soft-core cable porn on his TV. He smokes, he drinks, he uses bad words, he’s a bully, he’s a hood… he’s everything Sam knows is bad.

But Sam feels trapped in his insular, strict, and poor life. So he agrees to take some stuff – it’s medical supplies for rich people, he’s told — on a plane from Amsterdam. And though he’s naïve the first time, once he finds out what he was doing he decides to stay with it. The movie shows the moral dilemma he faces his gradual transformation from an innocent kid to a sushi eating, brown jacketed, drug taking criminal who kisses women in furs. Even from the first step into depredation, when Sam receives a pair of white Nikes from the drug cartel, you can see he realizes what he’s doing is not right. (He hides the shoebox under his bed so his parents can’t see.) And it’s a downward spiral from there. But Sam’s no Scarface: “Holy Rollers” is a non-violent, coming-of-age crime drama about life in the 90’s. And probably the only movie showing the ethical questions faced by Chassids on ecstacy.

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