Tag Archives: documentary

HARRY

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Flicking through an old issue of The Face the other day, I spotted Harry Jumonji modelling some Subware, reminding me that he has a habit of appearing in some relatively unlikely places. That had me Googling the recently screened documentary and I hadn’t realised that “OG” the Story of Harry Jumonji and the Birth of NYC Street Skating was online to rent or buy right now. The trailer has been drifting around for three years and the documentary includes footage shot seven years ago, resulting in something that gives a deeper overview of Jumonji’s life, up to his recent Go Fund Me aided return to Brazil courtesy of director Erica Hill. The letters O.G. are thrown about with little justification, but with Jumonji, we’re dealing with a true originator — Brazil’s best surfer turned skater who was forcefully sent to NYC by his dad where he helps father the city’s scene, with Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy’s Law putting him onto the Brooklyn Banks. It’s clear that Harry was a pioneer alongside fellow legend Andy Kessler (R.I.P.), and the film offers a sensitive portrayal of both its subject’s life as well as telling some of Kessler’s story.

Every drug addict has their “coulda been a contender” spiel, but in this case, it’s true — the local celebrity and cult hero could have been a superstar like friend Christian Hosoi who ended up with his fair share of demons, but, as the blunt talk of those relapses and incarceration testifies, Jumonji hasn’t come out the other side like Hosoi quite yet. The no-bullshit talk from associates like Tony Converse, shocking scene of heroin snorting, and situation with his child — echoing a distant relationship with his own dad — don’t give the Harry Jumonji story any easy Hollywood narratives, but his charisma and curious optimism in some doomed surroundings make him a likeable subject. This hustler since childhood lives that shambolic junkie life, but, just as those NYC skaters had to make do with the terrain they were given, he still has a lot of style both on the board and off it (that distinctive handstyle is explained too with some talk of his jail calligraphy classes). It’s both a cautionary tale and it’s a celebration of a character who embodies the worldview every streetwear brand wants to sell. Most of us aren’t built for it, so we’re better off with just the t-shirt. Hopefully between that overseas excursion, this film and the recent Know-Wave and Supreme supported ”OG” book, Harry Jumonji is on the road to greater recognition and some positive steps that, in an ideal world’ will give us the slightly happier follow-up one day. Go rent it.

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THE DUNK DAYS

My contempt for most contemporary shoe-related documentaries is pretty well-documented here, but this Vice Sports documentary on Dunk SBs is good. Fifteen Years of SB Dunk: Stories From the Inside Out feels true to the original spirit of the shoe (which I always felt reached its apex in late 2005) and is a fine companion piece to the Air Force 1 production from 10 years ago. Having been interviewed for it, I was gutted that an appearance from me would mean I could never watch the film, but fortunately, my rambling answers were excised from the final cut. Which meant I can view it, take notes and talk about it right here. Wild that these things went from around 150 at Slam City to NikeTown status, but they were pivotal in creating the blueprint for contemporary hype.

UPTOWNS

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I know that you might have seen the Air Force 1 documentary instalments from 2007 over and over again. All three parts clock in at around 19 minutes. But director and all round good guy Thibaut de Longeville was commissioned by Nike Sportswear to turn that work into something a lot longer in 2012. The resulting film, Air Force 1: Anatomy of an Urban Legend, was screened in NYC around the World Basketball Festival celebrations that summer and screened on OFIVE in France. It proved elusive since then online, but Fanagt on YouTube has uploaded it. At 75 minutes, there’s a lot more footage (and a couple of language barriers if you can’t speak French), plus a good narration from KRS-One. It’s more than just a repackage of the 2007 footage, though much of the footage seems to have been shot around 2006. Oddly, if you need more of the Baltimore story, there’s a bit more in the shorts (Cinderella Shoes’ owner has been excised here), but the animation on the 1984 releases — the daddy of the Quickstrike program — is a bit more specific in this production. Because this wasn’t handed out by Nike on promo DVDs, there’s an Azie Faison appearance and more explicit parallels drawn between drug dealer style and the popularity of the AF1. Sandy Bodecker (who has been heavily involved in numerous Nike projects that helped change the company’s direction — he was part of the AM1 project and was integral to making the brand a player in football and skateboarding) and the Up’s designer, Bruce Kilgore get in front of the camera too. Personally, I prefer the brevity of the original 2007 releases, because they remain some of the finest documentaries on the subject of shoes to date (unsurprising, because Thibaut and the 360 Creative team made Just For Kicks). I know there’s all kinds of shoe films in production right now, and many look unappealing, because they tread existing territory, film a few queues, single out some alleged influencers, then get a few dudes to open some boxes and bitch about resellers. Nobody’s telling stories, and W+K and Jordan Brand’s Sneakerheads and Just For Kicks are destined to be better until somebody actually makes an effort. There’s only a handful of trainers that justify a dedicated full-length film. This is 1 of them.

Edit: Annnnd it’s gone. Watch this 19 minute version instead and wait for a wider release some time soon.

BRAINS


Once again, i haven’t got much to talk about on here today (freelance duties are taking over), so I’ll completely cop-out and throw up another The Face magazine scan from 1999. It puts my mind at rest that I’ve at least blogged something.

If it’s a tenuous link you’re craving to at least mildly relate this to a current project, a Kickstarter drive to raise enough dollars to fund a documentary about HR from Bad Brains and his eccentric ways. ‘HR “Finding Joseph I” could be good if it at least gets to the bottom of the greatest band frontman of all time’s (in his day) psyche. Is he schizophrenic, an eccentric or are the crack rumours true? I know he spent some time living in a legendary streetwear brand’s warehouse, but the tales of his time out between lineups and shows are patchy and I’m hunting for answers. This trailer has done the blog rounds in the last 48 hours, so I feel it’s my duty to link to something good as an addition to this — the entire festival cut of the documentary Bad Brains: A Band in DC is on Vimeo right here and it’s excellent. There’s an animated sequence depicting their tour bus being jacked in the early days, conversations with key characters from their past, some ultra candid footage of Daryl switching on HR after a duff performance in 2006, talk of that infamous Big Boys incident, those troubled Maverick days, but amid the chaos there’s a celebration of a unique group that inspired a generation to pick up guitars and make noise, plus a great observation regarding Bernard Purdie and Earl Hudson’s unflappable delivery of rhythm. If you haven’t watched it yet then you really owe it to yourself to take 104 minutes out of your fake busy schedule to educate yourself, because A Band in DC was well worth the wait. While it’s comprehensive, at its conclusion, the HR enigma will play on your mind and that’s where Small Axe Films’ mooted creation fits in perfectly as a follow-up.

In this MTV 120 Minutes interview (minus HR), Daryl Jenifer appears to be wearing the Air Jordan IV to reiterate the Jordan line’s connection to hardcore. That shoe features heavily in the this feature from The Face. The Jordan Years was co-written by Fraser Cooke and, while a sub-editor seems to have made some questionable decisions in the bylines and that quintessentially British decision to omit some of the stranger Jordans pre and post 1995 is there (it’s also curious that the Jordan V and VI never got a picture) there’s some good facts in there too, plus some much-deserved love for the overlooked Jordan XI Low IE (International Exclusive) and talk of its “inspiration” on the Prada shoe of the time as well as some talk with Tinker Hatfield. At the time, this kind of thing was more commonly seen in Japanese publications, so picking it up in WH Smiths was a major novelty.

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On the apparel front, the white hoody from the new Ralph Lauren Wimbledon Collection that’s adorned with an old English font (in an appropriate shade of green) wouldn’t look amiss in an Eazy-E video over a Rhythum D production (alongside goons sporting the Karl Kani check shirt with the chest plate) if he was repping SW19 rather than Compton.

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BURROUGHS

“I’m not anticipating any trouble, because I don’t like violence.”
William H. Burroughs

Something I’m working on led me back to Burroughs. You’re pretty much obliged to bow down to the beats and it’s understandable, but I’ve picked up plenty of tat in my quest for enlightenment. To be honest, ‘On the Road’ didn’t ignite an epiphany in me — I was more impressed by Kerouac’s ‘Doctor Sax,’ (written while Jack was living with William Burroughs), and Ginsberg’s NAMBLA support to prove a point left me perplexed. Maybe I need to reinvestigate Allen’s intent there. But Burroughs is the one whose work felt — and still feels — truly dangerous. Nearly every piece of the man’s work has a clinical oddness that’s somehow at odds with the sometimes squalid imagery in his head. He put impurity down with his own opiate-bred brand of twisting narrative that never felt contrived despite his celebrity status — in-demand from those seeking the seated figure with the memorably nightmarish voice and embalmed appearance. Even when he was being photographed for GAP and promoting Nike’s Max2 line, that creepiness remained. It was a perfectly tailored breed of hardcore, with a sedateness that betrayed what those eyes had seen, with no skull rings or posturing necessary. I’ve had to retreat from certain texts like, ‘The Ticket That Exploded’ (my mind wasn’t ready for that cut-up technique), but his love letter to the feline race, ‘The Cat Inside,’ was a revelation, exposing another aspect of a complex soul, evolving until the very end. Was he always so deadpan, or was it the drugs? Did that experimentation create the face that’s as hard to read as the prose?

When I’m watching footage of Burroughs or reading his work, as well as pondering just how high drinking nutmeg and water will make you, I’m looking for those glimmers of humanity, rather than the UFOs, viruses, governmental weirdness, extreme shape shifts and poisoned blood perversities, all the while bearing in mind that he shot his wife in the head once. In between all the dispatches from the dark side, there’s a joy in trying to decipher where his mind is at. With ‘Rub Out the Words’ — a compilation of his written letters during his ‘golden era’ — recently published (and worth your time, his near-constant financial issues explain that willingness to participate in so much during the 1980’s and 1990’s), and Burroughs’ shotgun art of 1986/87 going on display at Uruguay’s Bohemian Gallery & Museum of Contemporary Art, there’s always room for a retrospective. Blasting cans of spray paint in front of canvases with a firearm feels irresponsible, given the man’s relationship with bullets, but it’s an authentic representation of where his head was probably at. Had Burroughs had a knack for illustration, his canvases and sketchbooks might have been an even clearer depiction of his dreams. From recollections from fellow Harvard students that William was fond of firearms, to that day in 1951, to the end, where he’d entertain/scare visitors by producing a sword from his cane (as recollected in ‘Last Words’), weaponry was a significant accessory in the Burroughs mythos. That fetish gets a memorable outing towards the end of ‘Burroughs.’

Howard Brookner’s ‘Burroughs,’ filmed between 1980 and 1983, is a superior documentary that — like the Omnibus ‘Cracked Actor’ documentary — was a BBC production for the Arena strand with Alan Yentob heavily arrived that deserves a DVD release, quietly capturing the complicated subject at a significant point in their career. It’s one of my favourite documentaries, making good use of his readings (and I recommend the UbuWeb sound archives for a thorough collection of Burroughs audio, from him reading ‘Junky’ in its entirety to dubs of cassettes made with Genesis P-Orridge) and including some memorable moments — rare footage of William and his tortured, tragic son Billy at the table (Billy died in 1981, during filming) that’s interspersed with some unflattering remarks from James Grauerholz, William visiting the home of his old gardener and leaving him visibly moved with his surprisingly lucid recollections of the man’s deceased son, a visit to see Lucian Freud, a moment of mirth around his improvised ‘Danny Boy’ lyrics and quite a few weapons — on showing off a telescopic baton, he animatedly describes a telescopic blade to slash somebody’s throat “…right in the middle of a sentence” and shows off a massive knife and fires off a blow dart too. Then there’s his terrifying looking ‘Bunker’ that’s a disused YMCA locker room, where he discusses a paranormal visitor as if it’s simply a matter-of-fact. It’s a compelling watch and Jim Jarmusch was recruited for sound duties (Howard Brookner was gaffer on ‘Permanent Vacation’). Brookner’s passing at age 34 robbed the world of plenty more equally strong portraits.

Somebody has kindly upped the whole documentary on YouTube, but there’s also a full upload of 1984’s ‘Decoder’ there too. ‘Decoder’ couldn’t feel much more 1980’s, but with the real Christianne F (Christiane Felscherinow) as a love interest and Burroughs in some unsettling dream sequences, it’s worth 88 minutes of your existence if you’re my way inclined.



HEAVYWEIGHTS

Two of my heavyweight heroes have passed this week, and it breaks my heart. The retrospective reels depicting Joe Frazier’s greatness are a stark contrast to the sorry state of the heavyweight division these days (though Kirkland and Angulo’s Super Welterweight bout at the weekend was a throwback to a happier time). Anybody blinded by Ali-mania and some salty exchanges of words is a clown. Frazier’s vicious style and heavy hitting makes him a god. It’s a tragedy that he seemed to spend the last few years of his life in a different place to a formerly demonised Ali opponent like George Foreman who came out the other side (after a period of depression) a happy human being. This 1973 Playboy interview is worth a read ahead of any eulogies and the forthcoming documentary ‘When the Smoke Clears’ about Joe, Philly and the closure of his gym is promising too.



Then there’s Heavy D.

It was surreal watching the onetime Overweight Lover on Westwood.tv, pondering the excellence of ‘Blue Funk’ and thinking about how ‘You Can’t See What I Can See’ was up there with ‘Dwyck’ in the b-side stakes, only to hear of his passing. Hip-hop loves to wail and shout “whyyyyyyy?” to the heavens via social media and rap tribute during any passing, but Heavy D deserves a substantial mourning period — see that Drake album that’s been weeping salty tears from your iPhone screen since monday? That mix of macho bars and the soul stuff is the byproduct of the big man’s work, where a Teddy Riley production settled alongside the hardest of Premier beats without a single murmur of complaint. And that was during a time when Wreckx-N-Effect’s boys got vexed at Phife’s anti swing sentiments and EPMD were decrying R&B crossovers. Heavy helped make Puffy the man his is today, and Puff’s influence — regardless of your opinion of the Ciroc wielding ego — on pop culture as a whole is gargantuan.

Heavy D knew early on that there’s no such thing as selling out, provided that you do it right and that Sprite campaign pre-dates a slew of multi-national flirtations with hip-hop. Better that that, ‘Nike’ on the ‘Living Large’ LP in 1987 is an early ode swoosh with a Teddy Riley on co-operation that’s so shameless that Heavy even apologises at the end before angling for a promo deal. On the ‘Chunky But Funky’ cover, the Jordan IIs quantities are on the level of Heavy D’s scrawny opposites, the Skinny Boys. It’s a shame that one of the Boyz forgot his Italian-made classics on the morning of the shoot.

On a loosely related nostalgia note, Trevor Jackson and Richard XL’s live Ustream video construction of a UK rap mixtape the other day plus this 1986 DJ Mek footage of London Posse in Dublin as highlighted by the Hot As Balls crew brought back some memories of Mr. Jackson’s Bite It! work under the Underdog alias. Had his Playgroup album dropped in the MP3 blog era, the world would have collectively ejaculated tweet plaudits about it and the new generation of quasi-artistic MCs would hop on the productions for their Mediafire mixtapes. But the world wasn’t quite ready for that one and his Output imprint closed in 2006. Under his Underdog guise, Trevor dropped some bangers, at a time when the UK re-rub was a reason to skip a track. It’s interesting that he frequently downplays his musical ability at that time, indicating that treating the sonics the same way as graphic design, with a patchwork approach was the key to his sound.

While some Underdog work might have been lumped with the post-Muggs, THC-haze there’s an ambience and knack for psychedelia in the mix that could be fully appreciation when it was free from the distraction of comparison with beloved originals. On the Brotherhood’s ‘Elementalz’ it was out there. Some of the album might sound a little naive now, but the little gothic touches and lavish yet abstract art from Dave Mckean indicated that someone had taken their time putting it together in contrast to the graffiti fonts and barely Pentel tag fonts of rival British releases. It never set off a movement and as a nation, few lessons were learned and UK rap moaned and stagnated. Now the real appeal is in a hastily recorded road rap sound that’s too agitated to bother with lavish inlays.

This interview with Jackson is brutally honest at a time when many swagger around as one-man brands on a Klout score mission. He downplays a little too much of his work, but it’s clear that the graphic design and typography is still his first passion (check out Cynthia Rose’s ‘Design After Dark’ for some sleeve and clubland designs that typify the late ’80s to early ’90s, including some of Jackson’s Champion and Gee Street work). His site has a good cross section of his works so far, but Bite It!s street-level take on the Suzuki rhino and the attention lavished on some otherwise forgotten 12″s with Donald Christie’s photography.



Little Pauly Ryan EP’s been on here before, but it deserves a second appearance alongside Scientists of Sound and 100% Proof releases too. Who else was doing anything like that in 1992? He still works with Donald on video projects like this. That sloganeering should be memorable to ‘Phat’ readers too. I can’t help but think that that one-man, money’s-no-object (rarely the key to longevity in the recording industry) crusade against mediocrity deserves inspection from a wider audience as we champion some right old sh…actually, to honour Hev’s ‘Don’t Curse’ plea, it can get censored…shameless rubbish.