Friday, May 02, 2014

[film]"Bad Brains: a Band in DC" (2012)

And this was the last of the Allison and Tiffany Anders programmed music documentaries in the 2014 Jameson International Dublin Film Festival. It tells the story of the well known DC hardcore band. They emerged in the late 1970s and had two notable features separate to their music. First of all, they were African American, which made them extremely unusual in the white-tastic world of punk. Secondly, they were weird. Now, lots of musicians are weird, but Bad Brains' weirdness, in their early days, came from an espousal of Positive Mental Attitude, a kind of cargo cult psychological approach they had acquired from a self-help book with the title Think And Grow Rich. Part of this Positive Mental Attitude thing was an avoidance of alcohol and drøgs, which means that Bad Brains arguably brought straight edge into the world (this is not necessarily a good thing, and I should know, for right now I am enjoying a relaxing time with some fine Yamazaki whisky).

There is some very grainy early footage of Bad Brains playing live, and this gives the sense that the band really had something. They come across as really intense, playing very heavy punk music with the winning feature being their extremely driven frontman. But I think they might be one of these bands who rather outstayed their welcome. Several things went wrong for them and I do not think they really ever recovered from them. For one thing, the music seems to have nose-dived in quality after their period of initial promise. Part of their slide into shite was an embrace of the kind of turgid metal that eventually gave us second division grunge bands. The other musical wrong turn was their embrace of reggae after seeing Bob Marley play live. I may be wrong, but I fear that no non-Jamaican act has ever improved their musical output by going reggae. Bad Brains efforts in this area do not suggest to me that they were bringing anything particularly new to the reggae table, in contrast to the rather exciting sounds of their early punk music. The other thing that went wrong for them was that their lead singer developed pretty serious mental health issues and became rather erratic in his live performances (and not in a good way).

Overall this was an interesting documentary about a band who were important in a scene I am ultimately not that bothered about. While the human story was engaging enough, the music was definitely the least interesting of the music films shown in the film festival. What also made it a disappointing experience was that the two Anders were not present at the screening, which was a shame as it would have been nice to have them close off their strand of the festival.

I should also mention that I was sorry I did not make it to Deconstructing Dad, another of the films in the music documentary sub-festival. This one was made by Stan Warnow about his father Raymond Scott, who apparently made all kinds of bizarre music for films and TV.

Bad Pandas

The Anders' JDIFF music programme

An inuit panda production

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