Published Jun 25, 2010Politically charged music these days is quite the renaissance art form. Serious, chin-stroking documentarians do retrospective films on Scandinavian death metal bands. Meanwhile, at an uber-hip art gallery near you staffed by bright young things, a glacial, impenetrable installation featuring the music of U2 is being assembled right now. It seems that the last thing we can expect of socially conscious musicians today is for them to be content being plain old heavy. And Sounds Like A Revolution is Heavy with a capital "H" (as you can see). Not in a knuckle-dragging, sludgy way, but in the old '70s-style, power-to-the-people way.
Co-directed by Summer Preney and Jane Michener, and narrated by Erykah Badu, it features engaging interviews with Anti-Flag, Paris, Jello Biafra, Michael Franti, Tom Morello, David Crosby, Steve Earle, the Dixie Chicks, Ani Difranco, NOFX, Henry Rollins and even Edge 102's Alan Cross as they discuss their guitars-as-weapons approach to inviting change and reform while simultaneously fighting with their labels and record companies for greater exposure.
Preney and Michener have made an audacious, eccentric Agit-prop film that, interestingly (and paradoxically), appeals as much for its musical forward thinking as it does for being an artefact of atavistic '60s hippie nostalgia. Visually, it is a delight ― scores of archival footage from music-inspired protests and concert footage. One minute into the film, we see shoulder-to-shoulder, sweaty, bombed-outta-their-minds concert crowds chanting, "You gotta die! Gotta die! Gotta die for your government! Die for your country, that's shit!" instantly latching onto my inner Yoko Ono.
However, where the film falters is in its lack of narrative or focus. Great documentaries follow a subject journeying from one point to another, which can be interspliced with interviewees riffing on the subject matter. However, Sounds Like A Revolution lacks a journey, identifiable protagonists (and villains, for that matter) and thematically, it hits just one note. The only time it comes close to any kind of arc is with Michael Franti, who discusses his musical tour across Iraq, or its exploration of the Rage Against the Machine incident where police forced them to cancel a show on the same day as the GOP convention.
Unfortunately, these are all told as after-the-fact anecdotes, leaving the viewer to feel like they've missed the revolution. Considering this film was made as a response to the Bush administration, it also feels a bit dated. The palette of textures and timbres may be limited in this film but nonetheless, the result is a densely layered, music-fostering-change treat that will inspire scores of people to rush out and vote. But don't go see this film if you're looking for a head-banging night out on the piss. (Deltatime/Guerilla Funk Filmworks)