Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Jay-Z, Run-DMC, Rita Ora, Eddie Vedder, Janelle Monáe, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Skrillex, Santigold
Producers: Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Jonathan Silberberg, Justin Wilkes
Running Time: 94 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I’m quite partial to a concert film, but I’ve never attempted to review one so I was a bit worried about how to approach this. This is because the key issue to your enjoyment and appreciation of a concert film is always going to be whether you like the music that is being played. Made in America documents a festival with a varied selection of artists though, so I figured there should be something for almost everyone music-wise and could be reviewed without too much trouble.
In 2012, hip-hop superstar Jay-Z organised a two day music festival in Philadelphia dubbed Made in America. He assembled a vast array of huge artists including Run-DMC, Pearl Jam, Janelle Monáe, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Skrillex and Santigold. In this film, director Ron Howard takes us behind the scenes of the workings of the festival, talking to these megastars as well as those keeping things ticking over and even an elderly resident from a neighbouring building.
I was quite torn by this film. On the one side you’ve got some amazing music by a lineup of artists, most of which I’m a fan of. On top of classic big hitters like Pearl Jam, Run-DMC and Jay-Z himself, plus modern day R&B/Hip-hop stars like Janelle Monáe, Santigold and Kanye West, you’ve got a couple of alternative/indie bands that I love in there – Dirty Projectors and Passion Pit. It’s a nicely eclectic mix, which is exactly what I like with my music. So in terms of tunes I was more than satisfied.
On the other side however, you’ve got the straight up documentary aspects. These weren’t as successful for me. Too many of the musicians are in textbook promo-tour mode and give the usual earnest crap about their difficult upbringings or how important their music is. Only rappers Odd Future take the light hearted approach and liven up the interviews no end.
Away from the uninspiring artist interviews, it’s the general insistence of Howard to try and make Made in America more than just a concert film that bothered me. By interviewing a food vendor and one of the roadies as well as asking Jay-Z and others about the importance of the festival, the film tries to infuse some social commentary to proceedings but I didn’t buy it. Pushing the ‘American Dream’ angle a bit too blatantly, it was all a bit patriotic for my liking and didn’t really have enough to say to give any true substance. This isn’t helped by the scattershot approach, interviewing a wide mix of people amongst behind the scenes footage and of course the concert performances.
And ultimately, this cluttered presentation causes the music itself to get pushed back further than I’d have liked. I was excited about watching some of my favourite artists perform on stage, but I was disappointed to find that next to no songs are shown in their entirety and are instead diluted by the fairly weak documentary aspects.
The music is still there though and I did enjoy the performances on show, so that’s why I’m giving this a reasonable rating. It’s just such a shame that Howard felt it needed to be more than just a music film. Perhaps a better documentary filmmaker could have brought something interesting to the fore, but here the interviews and behind the scenes footage become more of an annoyance than anything else as I’d have preferred to hear more from the likes of Gary Clark Jr. and Santigold.
Made in America is out on 19th May in the UK on DVD, released by Signature Entertainment. I watched the DVD version and the picture quality was excellent for a standard definition release. As for the sound, I found the interviews a little low in the mix so I had to crank up the volume, but the music came through loud and clear. I find that is often the case through my 5.1 setup though so it might be my problem rather than the DVD’s.
There weren’t any features on my disc, but it didn’t even have a menu so it might have been a pre-release screener.
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