It has been a terrific few years for music documentaries, and that winning streak continues with Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.
Sharing the same spirit of 20 Feet From Stardom and Searching for Sugar Man, which both put overlooked performers center stage, this film examines the influence of American Indians on popular music. What at first seems like a thin topic -- quick, name two American Indian musicians -- becomes a master class in the mixing of cultures.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
88 Cast: Documentary with archival footage of Link Wray, Mildred Bailey, Charley Patton, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Steve Salas, George Clinton, Pura Fe, David Fricke, Quincy Jones, Taj Mahal, John Trudell, Martin Scorsese, Slash
Directors: Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
The survey starts with the guitarist Link Wray, who was Shawnee. Wray "made an indelible mark on the whole evolution of where rock 'n' roll was going to go," Robbie Robertson of the Band says. Wray's 1958 single, "Rumble," was banned from airplay in several cities amid worries that it would incite teenage gang violence (despite being a wordless, instrumental tune), and Wray's guitar line seems to echo in every power chord you've heard.
Charley Patton, who profoundly shaped the blues, is profiled in another section before the film moves to Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, members of the band Redbone and others, all of whom had Indian heritage. We hear about childhoods spent listening and learning from grandparents who passed on traditions, and of discrimination encountered in the broader world.
"Be proud you're an Indian, but be careful who you tell," Robertson, who is part Mohawk, says of a prevailing attitude when he was younger.
Shorter sections explore American Indian rhythms and beats that seeped into popular music, and the deep connections the players forged with black performers. Newsreels and old black-and-white photos provide historical context, and interviews add plenty of energy. Martin Scorsese and Iggy Pop offer insights, while Steven Van Zandt's enthusiasm is contagious. After hearing a story by Jackson Browne, you'll listen to his "Doctor My Eyes" with different ears.
Directed by Catherine Bainbridge, Rumble takes a few serious turns even as it remains lively throughout. If you couldn't name two American Indian musicians at the beginning of the documentary, you'll remember at least a half-dozen after the end. And it's a good bet you'll be searching for their albums, too.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World will screen at Little Rock's Riverdale 10 at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Go to riverdale10.com for tickets and more information.
MovieStyle on 10/20/2017
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