Docs That Rock

Hip Hop From the Sticks

Tomorrow, San Francisco’s Frozen Film Festival will screen a new hip hop doc called Where You From. Far away from bling, the film features three rural hip hop hopefuls from Montana and northern California, all aspiring to become bigger. But like urban counterparts, the rappers rhyme about universal problems like poverty and drugs, proving Rakim’s line “it ain’t where you from, it’s where you at.” Martin Kelley of Cinema Atl magazine has a good feature about the film (which premiered in April at the Atlanta Film Festival) and an interview with director Sabrina Lee where she says the idea came after seeing a hand-made sign in a cow pasture in rural California promoting a hip hop show. Matthew Buzzell served as the DP and consulting producer; music doc fans know him as the filmmaker behind docs about Luna, Jimmy Scott, and Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint.


July 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MJ Docs: The Doc That Changed Everything

Docs like Gimme Shelter , Woodstock and Some Kind of Monster probably are what many people regard as the genre’s most influential. But there is a strong case that Martin Bashir’s Living With Michael Jackson was the rock doc that had the biggest impact outside the screen.

I still remember watching it for the first time. Cannily, VH1 had bought the rerun rights to the doc after 20/20’s premiere, only because anything with MJ usually rated well and second runs of news programs are pretty inexpensive. I’m not sure anyone had any idea of the what was in the show; I certainly didn’t!

At the start of the doc, when MJ climbs into the tree, I thought “here we go again.” From having covered Jackson and delved into his history, I knew that some of his craziest press he brought on himself. For instance, we interviewed a former National Enquirer editor who said it was Jackson’s press people who called him, urging the tabloid to cover his hyperbaric bed chamber. So when he was up in his favorite tree, confessing to Bashir that he loved to go there to think, or shown on an insane Vegas shopping spree, buying ugly furniture and totems at will, I watched with amusement, figuring the whole thing was another publicity ploy.

MJ finally admitted to some plastic surgery (though only two nose jobs!) and other assorted revelations that were all forgotten when later in the program, he got to the confessional: “sharing your bed is the most wonderful thing a person can do.” At that moment, there were no more suspicions about his calculating nature. No one who had just emerged from a molestation scandal would ever go to that place again and yet there was MJ babbling about kiddie sleepovers. Something was incredibly amiss and the world got weirder after that moment, for singer and for viewers. As many remember, the boy on that program who testified to MJ’s friendship came out a few weeks later to accuse him of molestation. (Oddly, though the boy was a minor, everyone knew his name from teh show but the media always redacted it anyhow. In today’s anything goes Internet climate, that would never happen now.)

There was no way for him to recover from the PR damage. He released a very lame second camera version of the Bashir interview (taped by his own people) which had Bashir praising his parenting skills and creativity – MJ was trying to show the world Bashir had a hidden agenda. But surely someone knew that it was only the feint praise of a reporter, eager to keep his subject speaking, and not evidence of a conspiracy, right? (Finding out where MJ’s press people were during this debacle is a great untold story.) MJ was later declared innocent but until his recent passing, no one ever spoke about his musical legacy when his name came up.

Whatever pain MJ felt surely grew more acute after that special, the trial, and he became even more of a hermit with a persecution complex. Or maybe he happily stepped out of the public eye to raise his children privately? With him, news reports often completely opposite facts. But on the tape, talking to Bashir about children, was as boundaryless as Michael Jackson would ever appear in public.

NBC has been rerunning the Bashir doc but like everything else, most of it can be found on YouTube now.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment