Review: ‘Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World’

An enlightening documentary about Native Americans’ role in the evolution of contemporary music

The distortion of Link Wray’s guitar hit the American air waves in 1958 with “Rumble.” The song was one of the first tunes to use power chords, a technique that had yet to be explored by the rock and roll scene. In the summer of that year, “Rumble” became an instant success. It rose to number sixteen on the charts, despite being banned in several US radio markets under the claim the noisy, distorted sound glorified juvenile delinquency. Link Wray’s innovative use of the electric guitar ended up influencing a generation of guitarists.The distortion of Link Wray’s guitar hit the American air waves in 1958 with “Rumble.” The song was one of the first tunes to use power chords, a technique that had yet to be explored by the rock and roll scene. In the summer of that year, “Rumble” became an instant success. It rose to number sixteen on the charts, despite being banned in several US radio markets under the claim the noisy, distorted sound glorified juvenile delinquency. Link Wray’s innovative use of the electric guitar ended up influencing a generation of guitarists.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is an enlightening documentary about Native Americans’ role in the evolution of contemporary music. It tells the story of contributions made by Native American musicians to the rise of blues, rock and roll, and pop music. These musicians include Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Randy Castillo, and, of course, Link Wray. Directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, this movie presents an overlooked chapter in music history.

From the father of delta blues, Charley Patton, to one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th Century, Jimi Hendrix, this documentary provides a list of influential artists whose Native American backgrounds often lacked the due consideration by their fans and the media. For example, during  Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix wore headbands and other Native American-styled clothing. Jimi’s sister says he did it to honor his Cherokee grandmother. However, at that time, most fans saw his style as part of the tribal trend in hippie fashion.

The radio ban on Wray’s music, or the disregard for Jimi Hendrix’s Native American roots may not have been directly related to the blatant discrimination occurring in the Fifties and Sixties, but it sure resembles the time when the government outlawed music by Native Americans. Although this documentary covers many prohibitions that targeted Native American culture, Rumble triumphs by not victimizing Native Americans. It leaves viewers feeling inspired rather than sad, and with “Rumble” echoing in their heads. Dummm dummm duuuuummm.

Director: Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana

Screenplay: Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana

Genre: Music/Documentary

Running Time: 1h 43m

Review: ‘Lady Macbeth’

Florence Pugh as Katherine creates a mid-19th Century femme fatale

Lady Macbeth (2016) is set in rural north England in the mid-19th Century. The movie’s opening scene shows Katherine’s (Florence Pugh) face covered by a white wedding veil, looking back, as if glancing at the viewer. The lack of importance in Katherine’s surroundings gives her a strong sense of presence, yet it foreshadows the loneliness of her coming marital life. Prevented by her husband from leaving the house, Katherine is trapped in a suffocating environment where she is seen as a mere adornment and child-bearer. Alexander (Paul Hilton), Katherine’s much older husband, does not show any sexual interest in her. When he leaves the house for reasons unknown to Katherine, she ends up having an affair with one of the men who works on the land, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).

Florence Pugh as Katherine in Lady Macbeth. Photo: IMDB.

Florence Pugh as Katherine in Lady Macbeth. Photo: IMDb.

The story may remind viewers of Madame Bovary, but do not fool yourself, for Lady Macbeth takes on a very different, dark course. Based on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Russian writer Nikolai Leskov, the movie can go from quietness to turmoil in a very short period of time. Lady Macbeth‘s narrative does not rely too much on dialogue to tell Katherine’s story. The setting, lighting, and solitude around Katherine’s environment can be more expressive than words. The lack of cheerful tones in the house creates a dreary habitat, which focuses the attention on Katherine, and at the same time indicates a state of boredom. The constant silence in the house turns Katherine’s own breathing into the movie’s soundtrack, showing how suffocating her life is in that patriarchal social system.

At this point of the movie, there is no way out; the viewer is also stuck in the house with Katherine.

The way Katherine finds freedom to love Sebastian is by suppressing any compassion and taking down anyone who seems to threaten her affair. When she starts taking action, the viewer understands the reference to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, a woman conflicted between masculinity and femininity in a time where being ruthless was seen as a male attribute. Katherine is a modern character lost in a rustic, old environment. The cinematography complies with that, adopting an approach not often used in period dramas, which brings us closer to Katherine.

The movie is William Oldroyd’s debut feature film, and Alice Birch’s debut as a screenwriter. As for the actress Florence Pugh, one thought follows the viewer around: “Who is this girl and why have I not seen her before?” Her performance as Katherine creates a dense mid-19th Century femme fatale who leads her lover – and the viewer – into deadly situations.

As the story unfolds, Katherine’s silence is replaced by the silence of a speechless audience.

Director: William Oldroyd

Screenplay: Alice Birch

Genre: Drama film

Running Time: 1h 30m

Review: ‘Maudie’

Emotions are stirred up in this biopic film as Hawkins delivers an outstanding performance

Vulnerability often leads people to seek help from others, but what few realize is that help can also come from within the self through the making of art. Art has the power to expand one’s abilities beyond those given by nature, compensating for a certain innate weakness of mind or body. In Maudie (2017), directed by Aisling Walsh and written by Sherry White, the colorful, vibrant paintings of folk artist Maud Lewis transcend her natural physical limitations to find a place in the viewer’s heart.

Sally Hawkins gives life to Maud Lewis, a self-taught, Canadian painter with rheumatoid arthritis, struggling to prove herself capable despite her crippling appearance. When Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a fish peddler, decides to find a woman to help him with the housework, he meets Maud. She moves in to work for Everett, whose toxic masculinity makes it hard to understand the attraction Maud soon develops for him.

Emotions are stirred up in this biopic film as Hawkins delivers an outstanding performance as Maud. The actress manages to portray the troubled physical limitations of her character, while showing a glittery charismatic side of Maud’s personality, whose life’s surroundings are not so bright and colorful as the life she portrays in her paintings. We should not be surprised if Sally Hawkins, who was recently nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress, gets nominated for best actress next year for her role in Maudie; Hawkins’ transformation into Maud will not go unnoticed.

Ethan Hawke’s performance also causes an impression, for we find it hard to sympathize with his character, an abusive Everett. “Let me tell you how it is around here,” Everett says to Maud after she starts living with him. “There’s me, them dogs, them chickens, then you.” But, Everett’s traditional views soon collapse as he finds himself sweeping the front porch while Maud slowly starts selling her paintings and becomes the provider.

The cinematography in the story immerses the viewer into Maud’s artistic solitude. The frame-within-a-frame shots constantly puts Maud looking from behind windows, which adds a loneliness in the already lonely rural environment. Yet, the windows present life already framed right in front of her, just expecting to be painted. The eyes might be the windows for the soul, but in Maud’s creative process the windows are the ones serving as eyes for life.

In Maudie, we find the inspiring story of a woman whose limitations never prevented her from comprehending how beautiful life can be. You might not know about Maud’s work or history, but you will most likely walk away from the movie theater idolizing a new artist. Maudie may become one of the most touching movies you might see this year. Just be sure to bring your own tissues because you may eventually drop a few tears – or just grab the closest napkin on the Art House’s bar.

Director: Aisling Walsh

Screenplay: Sherry White

Genre: Drama film/Romance

Running Time: 1h 55m

Review: ‘Band Aid’

When life gets a little too hard, art becomes a therapy

In Band Aid (2017), a comedy-drama about the unresolved conflicts couples often face, Anna (Zoe-Lister Jones) and Ben (Adam Pelly) find in music a way to deal with their excess of emotions by turning their fights into songs. The couple put their guitars together, listed their most intense fights, and began writing lyrics. They soon realize they need a drummer, so they team up with their one-of-a-kind neighbor, Dave (Fred Armisen), to start a band named “The Dirty Dishes.”

Ben is a frustrated freelance designer working from home. Anna is an Uber driver with a failed book deal. Together they watch their friends’ lives move on as their very own seem stuck in time, especially after Anna’s miscarriage, which left them far more than just grief. The band’s name is a reference to one of their main contentions: a sink full of dirty dishes. Ben seems apathetic to the mess in the sink, while it drives Anna crazy. The dirty dishes are not only a metaphor for the couple’s issues, but are also the way they both approach and deal with their problems. While Ben seems to build up his emotions, Anna’s are very clear. Singing about these “dirty dishes” allows the couple to externalize their emotions, tuning them into the same frequency; a frequency not often reached in their music-less everyday routine.

Directed, written, produced, and starred by Zoe Lister-Jones, Band Aid is not only a light-hearted dramedy on marriage’s intrinsic obstacles, but also a strong statement on women’s representation in cinema, considering the movie was made by an all-female crew. “I had been very aware — both being in front of the camera and behind it — of the under-representation of women on television and film crews, so I wanted to create opportunities for women, especially in departments where they’re very rarely given them,” said Lister-Jones during an interview with CBS News.

Band Aid is Lister-Jones’ directorial debut, and she manages to create a fun chemistry between the two main characters. Eventually, the couple discovers – spoiler alert! — a Band-Aid is just a temporary solution, and love is nothing but constantly repairing, or healing, if you will.

Director: Zoe Lister-Jones

Screenplay: Zoe Lister-Jones

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 1h 31m

Review: ‘Score: A Film Music Documentary’

The power of music in storytelling

I was a fourteen-year-old awkward teenager watching Titanic when I first understood music’s effect on films. In the second-half of the movie, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) convinces Rose (Kate Winslet) to get into a lifeboat. As the boat goes down and Rose looks back to Jack, I remember feeling deeply sad, yet there was still no sign of tears rolling down my face. It was not until the music that I started crying, as if I were Rose herself leaving Jack behind. When James Horner’s music was brought to the drama, that scene truly became something else, something composers hope to achieve as we learn in Score: A Film Music Documentary, written and directed by Matt Schrader. 

Matt Schrader left his job at CBS in 2014 to work on a documentary about the power of music. “It was always interesting to me how something without any lyrics could have such a profound meaning on us,” Schrader said during an interview with the Hamptons International Film Festival. The profound meaning of music on film-making becomes apparent as the documentary takes the viewer on an adventure through the creative process of Hollywood’s greatest film score composers. From organs in silent movies, to Hans Zimmer transforming orchestral songs into Led Zeppelin, Score revisits remarkable moments in cinema which were the results of collaborations between the director and the composer.

One such collaboration was between filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and music composer Bernard Hermman (Psycho, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane). Hitchcock had already planned the infamous shower scene in Psycho to be played without music before teaming up with Hermman. The composer, however, decided to create a score for the murder scene. Hitchcock accepted Hermman’s change and soon the score would become the quintessential sound of terror. Impressed with Hermman’s contribution to the film, Hitchcock stated that “33 percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”

The story of film scores as told by Schrader turns into an ode to the works of many award-winning composers, such as Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Interstellar), John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, Schindler’s List), and James Horner (Titanic, Avatar, Braveheart). Emotions are still invoked when William’s “The Imperial March” from the Star Wars series begins playing. John Barry’s “James Bond Theme,” composed half-a-century ago, still has a huge influence on spy films. Hermman’s eeeh-eeeh-eeeh in Psycho still gives us goosebumps.

Score speaks differently to every viewer. Moviegoers get a closer look at the creative process behind their favorite films. Music lovers can get inspired by the works of acclaimed musicians. Nostalgic viewers will leave the cinema with a smile on their face. One thing is right, viewers will likely search for composers on Spotify at the end of the film, so they can listen to scores on their way home to keep up the momentum.

Director: Matt Schrader

Screenplay: Matt Schrader

Genre: Music/Documentary

Running Time: 1h 34m