Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review: RiP: A Remix Manifesto

RiP: A Remix Manifesto
Dir. Brett Gaylor
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 80mins

One shouldn't go into Brett Gaylor's RiP: A Remix Manifesto expecting an even argument. This documentary about copyright laws and their hindering of musical culture is most definitely in the "against" camp and doesn't even attempt to present an even-sided view. In that regard, this documentary isn't very good, but the one-sided affair that is presented is done so quite nicely. I suppose it helps that I err on the side that Gaylor is arguing, but it's also nice because there is plenty of great music within and an energetic central figure in the form of mash-up artist Girl Talk.

This is Gaylor's first film and it shows. The doco has a distinct DIY feel to it that is both apt, considering the focus of the film, and frustrating. There are wonderfully done opening credits and title card sequences and there is some great live performance footage. Unfortunately Gaylor inserts himself into the picture far too often when the more interesting person is Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis). Gaylor does not have a strong enough voice for the film's narration and there is no need to see him sitting opposite his interview subjects (something that is happening more and more in documentary filmmaking).

And as interesting as the history of copyright is - that's actually true, I'm not being sarcastic - it's as if Gaylor couldn't quite pick out the more interesting aspects of it to focus on. While the film focuses on Girl Talk there is a great rhythm and the music will surely keep your focus, but he is hardly the first artist to use samples. Nary a mention of Erik B and Rakim? DJ Shadow? The Avalanches? And famous copyright cases such as The Verve vs The Rolling Stones barely even touched upon? Or what about the case of The Fugees vs Enya, which occurred even before that? Sloppy research? Perhaps not, but the film's lack of scope in this area was disappointing.

The film's strongest moments, however, are during a sojourn to Brazil with it's energetic and eclectic musical taste pushed front and centre. These scenes are so overflowing with musical passion that it would take the sternest of "kids these days" head-shakers to not get caught up in it. Elsewhere law professor Lawrence Lessig proves to be the most knowledgeable on the debate and his arguments hold up best. Such moments of wisdom like 'People quote books all the time in everything from movies to school essays with nothing more than a citation, so why can't a musician use a two-second loop of a song just the same?' provide much food for thought. Dan O'Neill, a famed underground cartoonish, is another welcome addition and provides a well-needed laugh.

It's such a shame that this documentary feels held back by Gaylor and the fact that it's such a small project. It could have definitely benefited from a larger scope and less of the director himself. He, himself, presents facts too straight-forwardly and it becomes obvious that that sort of stuff is better left to the entertaining people he has surrounded himself with. And even though I think his argument is important and worthy, presenting the other side in a fair manner would have made it even stronger. B-

Befitting the film, Gaylor has actually allowed people to download the movie from the official website for a suggested fee. It receives a limited release in Australia from Thursday.

1 comment:

Candi said...

I totally agree with you that the strongest moments are in Brazil. I was a bit skeptical about the one-sidedness at first too. But when the director opened up the argument to cover matters outside of the music industry the film garnered a new importance. People in the US can also download it through iTunes now.