NZIFF ’17/06: RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

2017; directed by Catherine Bainbridge; co-directed by Alfonso Maiorana; 99 mins

The rock doc: One of the 20th century’s greatest inventions! More than any musical or even gig do I love Glastonbury, Woodstock, Punk: Attitude, The Future is Unwritten, Gimme Shelter and so many others. A great rock doc can take music you don’t even like and have you wanting more and realising the artistic integrity of musos who you previously thought were crap. Not only that, it can open you up to a whole vast tract of music that you were completely unaware of and this one kinda does a little bit of both:

A documentary charting the influence of Native Americans on modern popular music, RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World starts from Link Wray‘s song called Rumble and spreading out from there. Going back and forth in time, taking in many different music genres from blues to rock ‘n’ roll to punk to heavy metal. It also shows how different areas of America were influenced by Native American rhythm in their own particular ways, be it the melting pot of New Orleans or the mean streets of L.A.. All these strands, seemingly go back to the destruction of the First Nations by the European settlers and the howls of rage that echoed down the generations, subsequently bleeding into pop culture in many ways, including through a genetic link with African Americans which sees Howlin’ Wolf and Jimi Hendrix representing with their respective mixed heritages.

As a documentary, stylistically, it’s fairly standard with talking heads bolstered by a wealth of archival footage but one nice little nugget is that any interviewees of Native American descent have their particular nation or tribe detailed alongside name and occupation. Interestingly, in the archival photos, you may notice a couple of images of the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee come up that also feature in I am Not Your Negro.

What director, Catherine Bainbridge, does really well is to have the interviewees explain how the Native American rhythms and music fed into the music, because with the many strands that are darting off the central narrative, it’d be easy for the film to lose track of it’s argument but when you get to Randy Castillo playing drums for Ozzy Osbourne, you still understand what of his culture he brought to that Heavy Metal sound. If I have a criticism, it’s that when it gets to the spiritual side and people are talking about their connection with the land being key, as someone who isn’t spiritual at all (unfacetiously) I wanna know what they mean by that.

The celebrities (including Taj Mahal, Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones and Slash) all seem passionate and well-researched which is refreshing, although there a couple of instances where they get a bit too luvvy for my tastes. What gets you, in the end, is the Native American friends and family sat on a porch, picking away at banjos and singing their hearts out that makes this a truly different rock doc.

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD is showing at Regent Theatre, 8.45p.m. 14th August and Rialto Cinema, 2.15p.m. 28th August.

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