Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Spoiler-free

Over the last couple of weeks, Dan Lamoureux has chosen a handful of insightful individuals to screen the rough cut of his documentary Nerdcore For Life. For reasons known only to Dan himself and the ancient gods of dorkiness, I made the cut. In exchange for my thoughts on the doc, I was granted permission to share with you my take on the film.

Out of respect for Dan, the project itself, and the artists included, I won’t be giving too much away, mind you. Just consider this more of a teaser review than anything else.

Documentaries are – much like these Internets – serious business. Still, it’s hard to pin down exactly how realistic these films can be. Such questions generally hinge on the amount of directorial control exhibited over the movie; will the man behind the project ultimately take it upon himself to spin the tale he wants to hear or reflect on the events as they happened?

In my interview with Dan last year, I proclaimed that he was telling our story. Upon seeing the almost finished piece, I would like to recant that statement.

The truth is, within the bounds of the Nerdcore For Life documentary, we are telling our story.

Dan’s there, of course, but I failed to see many of the directorial fingerprints that I’ve come to expect from the modern documentary. Unlike Moore or Spurlock, Dan never portrays himself as a player in the film. He is unseen, and, for that matter, unheard. The voice of the picture – the voice of nerdcore – is the voice of the artist and that of the (informed) fan.

More often than not, that voice takes many, often conflicting, tones. From the characteristic swagger of High-C to the measured and conversant ponderings of Jesse Dangerously, nerdcore hip-hop is approached as both a movement and a musical umbrella. From the self-effacing Ultraklystron to the totally outlandish Lords of the Rhymes, it is both touted and deconstructed. From the calculated ambivalence of mc chris to the rampant enthusiasm of Krondor Krew, it is portrayed in all its many guises. Some of my favorite musings come from cats as disparate as Beefy, Nerdcore News’s Gabriel, and MC Lars. These are men of blindingly different artistic outlooks, but the underlying thread is that it is through their own words and actions that they are characterized.

Nerdcore For Life is, and I’d like to stress this part, a warts-and-all portrayal of the birth of the nerdcore hip-hop scene. Some of the moments portrayed therein are not our finest. Some of the artists featured may not be our biggest names. Some of the gigs are far from our greatest draws. But the truth is, these things are realistic. The verisimilitude of the film is anchored by the fact that our highs are documented and also our lows.

We see Optimus Rhyme take the stage at PAX as a king mounts a bejeweled throne, but we also see passersby refusing to accept handbills for the Nerdcore Night gig at The Shark Club. We hear countless artists praise the skill and vision of folks like MC Frontalot (who is, of course, covered despite the fact that he’s featured in his own documentary), and we also revisit a handful of beefs that would be better forgotten. We bear witness to the scene as it was during the time in which the doc was being filmed, for better or for worse.

And with that, let me broach the sticky subject that is “the morning after.” As you all well know, a number of artists featured in Nerdcore For Life have since left the fold. Karl Olson took a bit of a sabbatical to focus on more pressing issues, mc chris broke very publicly with the community after the brief acceptance of his role as a driving force in nerdcore, and recently MC Router departed amid a firestorm of controversy.

The film, as I saw it, didn’t end with any where-are-they-now placards. (Alas, we’ll never know what happened to Waldo!) Yet I am of the opinion that it doesn’t have to and, on some level, probably shouldn’t. This film, this project, is a time capsule. It recounts the events as they transpired to the folks who lived them. In the end, whether this person went on to greatness or that one faded further into obscurity is of little consequence.

More than anything, Nerdcore For Life is about that moment when nerdcore hip-hop became a blip on the radar. Much like nerd life in general, some grokked it and some did not. The same goes for the film.

If you are looking for a reason to hate it, be it the focus of the doc, the players portrayed, or the timetable included, you’ll certainly find something to complain about. Of course, if you are hell-bent on enjoying the show you’ll probably find this to be the finest geek-centered film of its generation. But, and this is the kicker, if you watch the movie hoping to be entertained, informed, and maybe even a little enlightened – be you a nerdcore devotee or a casual naysayer – I think you’ll be pleased with the tale.

Nerdcore For Life isn’t just about nerdcore hip-hop; it’s about people, it’s about ideas, and it’s about that glorious – if tentative – modern acceptance of the self-identifying nerd (of which I believe we are a symptom rather than a root cause.)

If the film has a star it could be Beefy. It could be Former Fat Boys. It could be the Sucklord. It could be Monzy or MC Plus+. But I think that the real star is the music, and, more specifically, the music’s message. What that message is differs depending upon whom you ask and in what context, and Dan portrays that through the thoughts and deeds of a myriad of musical freaks, geeks, and misfits.

It’s his film, but it’s our story. It doesn’t go out of its way to glorify us or to vilify us; it simply gives us a mechanism through which to express our unique set of attitudes and beliefs. And I think it does so skillfully.





12 comments:

antisoc said...

Any word on a release date, yet?

Matt said...

Release Date? Are we absolutely sure he's finished filming? :)

I kid.

Yeah Z, a release date would be kind of cool.

Steffo said...

Playing at a theater near you? Surely.Nothing against your mother dearest Z, but your a lucky SOB.

Anthony said...

Sounds interesting, i will definitely have to be seeing it since it's released, maybe it will get me more up to speed on this whole nerdcore thing. since I'm always so lost as to the inner workings of it all.

Anthony said...

oh man! looks like it's a good year for nerd music AND documentaries!

check out the trailer for REFORMAT THE PLANET!

Z. said...

Sorry, lads, all I can get from Dan re: the release date is "soon." Whenever I hear something definite (or even speculative) I'll let y'all know.

Yeah, Steffo, I was fortunate to get to see it early. Now I'm really jazzed about the final product.

I think it'll fill in some gaps, Ant, and I'm gonna have to dig more into the RTP doc too.

Rob said...

I will not comment as to whether or not this documentary will be screened at or shortly before Nerdapalooza. ;)

Z. said...

Rob, you crafty, crafty bastard! ;)

pinky said...

i demand an Australian release, i know you can push some buttons for me buddy...

Z. said...

Hey, Pink, maybe Dan could work something out for a screening at your uni after release. You should hit him up about that.

Sangriaa said...

Krondor Krew! Woooo!

pinky said...

yeah, damn i might just have to see about that... maybe even at the national gallery...