Published Apr 30, 2010What happens when a gay French-Canadian Jewish pianist/accordionist (Josh Dolgin) combines klezmer (traditional Jewish folk music) with funk and hip-hop? First, he becomes Heavy J, then So-Called Heavy J, and finally just Socalled, who uses this eclectic fusion to bring audiences together wherever he goes.
Crisply shot over a variety of locales, including Paris, Toronto and Dolgin's hometown of Montreal, The "Socalled" Movie is certainly intriguing for a short while. Director Garry Beitel takes us through Socalled's practice sessions and home life. However, by the end, audiences may question the modest and self-deprecating Socalled as much as he questions himself.
With his balding 'fro and nebbish glasses, Dolgin is certainly an unlikely cult hip-hop hero and, as such, his more successful musical endeavours favour the klezmer leaning. In particular, the "Klezmer Cruise" showcases the most genuinely awe-inspiring playing; the cruise sails through the Dneiper River with Dolgin, virtuoso clarinettist David Krakauer and others joyfully immersed in the history and richness of the klezmer style.
Socalled's music, while based in religious traditions, is absent of faith-based connotations ― at one point, Dolgin claims he hates religion, but commends its creation for the music inspired through it. Socalled's first short film is also included roughly a third into The "Socalled" Movie. While the direct showcasing of Socalled's multimedia endeavours is a novel idea, unfortunately the short feels more like filler than anything else.
Dolgin seems truly connected to a global community of music fans, but there is simply not enough story or drama within The "Socalled" Movie to sustain interest through the film. No doubt Dolgin is a talented performer who approaches his performances as unique entities, but a better entry point may await potential listeners. (NFB)