The "Socalled" Movie
National Film Board of Canada
"Frankly, there's nothing so unusual about being a Jewish cowboy."
Those lyrics, from a concert that opens the 2010 documentary The "Socalled" Movie, reference Canadian rapper Josh Dolgin—who goes by, Socalled.
The truth is, "rapper" is a label that should be used very loosely when talking about Socalled. His appearance is very atypical of a rapper— he's a scrawny Jewish guy from Montreal who is balding yet still sports a curly fro. And while he does flow from time to time—mainly on his 2007 album Ghettoblaster—Socalled is much more a producer, songwriter and collaborator than he is rhymer. His sound is an eclectic blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop and klezmer—an Eastern European genre, heavy on wind instruments and accordion, that was brought to North America by Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants.
This movie about Dolgin is odd. In between scenes of stage performances in front of big crowds—this guy's got quite the following—Socalled practices magic from a book, shoots a short film, even watches water boil.
The most serious point in the documentary is reached during a klezmer boat cruise down the Dnieper River in Ukraine. In an exploration of Dolgin's heritage, the boat stops to visit some Holocaust sites and then contrasts the past against the present with some fantastic clarinet playing amid vodka drinking when everybody is back on board.
From there, The "Socalled" Movie follows Dolgin as his band provides a live soundtrack for the screening of a gay porn film and then shares the stage with MC and master pianist Chilly Gonzalez. Along the way there is some outstanding musicianship from trombonist Fred Wesley and clarinet player David Krakauer, as well as the poignant moment when Socalled declares, "Sex is weird."
And while the movie is definitely also weird, it's endearing and quirky—a kind of novelty. But one with enjoyment that lasts rather than quickly fading. The film is primarily a vessel to deliver Socalled's message—that humanity is best served by togetherness rather than segregation. It's what he says his music is all about.
When the Drum is Beating
First Run Features
It's pretty clear, the documentary about Haiti's national treasure, Orchestre Septentrional—a 20-piece band—is the most powerful music-based film on Netflix. And though the movie does center on this Cuban Afro-beat orchestra, it's more about the resilient Haitian people.
In the midst of modern-day struggles and a dark past that still casts a shadow over the nation, Haitians use music to cope and to gain strength. Or, to put it in the words of Septentrional music director Nikol Levy:
"In Haiti you sing when you happy, you sing when you sad," says Levy. "To me it is part of resistance of the Haitian people—singing, dancing, even though you have misery all around you."
When the Drum is Beating is a melancholy history lesson as well as an uplifting story. The film paints a bleak picture of Haiti through its torrid past under French occupation and the slave trade to present-day visuals of waterways and streets lined with trash. But smiles are found at Septentrional concerts, when Haitians sing in church and when they dance in the streets. So while the movie is gut-wrenching, it strips music down to its roots. Back to when its only purpose was to reflect the joys, sorrows and realities of a society, not push agendas or exploit sex, and that's a breath of fresh air.
deadmau5: Mewoingtons Hax 2K11
If you haven't been to see Toronto electro-music producer and performer Joel Thomas Zimmerman—who records as Deadmau5 (dead mouse)—you are missing out.
It's not that his grinding beats and wailing synth melodies are complicated and therefore awesome. It's more that his light shows and involvement with the crowd make for one completely enthralling party. One that has broken attendance records when Zimmerman has taken it on the road.
In this film, there are no interviews, no behind-the-scenes insights. It's simply a gigantic Deadmau5 concert at Rogers Centre in Toronto. A crowd 20,000 strong all pump fists in the air as Zimmerman bounces behind his equipment wearing one of his classic giant mouse heads. And even when viewed from your laptop, the fun at the show is infectious. It's the closest you can get to the intense electric rave atmosphere without being at a show.