The ‘Socalled’ Movie movie review

My friend Clint wrote this review unexpectedly, and sent it to me. We had been talking about a web project, well, my web project, that I asked if he would like to contribute to. I was thinking of a creating a test site, however I never have to this point. So he submitted this review to me, and apparently it takes me a lot longer to copy and paste than to write my own blog posts. He sent it to me June 5. Apologies to him.

The review is of the film titled The ‘Socalled’ Movie. It is about Josh Dolgin, aka Socalled, and as Wikipedia puts it, he

is a Canadian rapper and producer, known for his eclectic mix of hip hop, klezmer and other styles, for example drum & bass and other types of folk music.

Alas, here is the review:

SoCalled Film More about Character Than Musicmaking By C.B. Earle

In a music scene littered with desperately dull vocoder-ridden vocal stylings, boy bands with the emotional depth of your average shop mannequin, and divas who put more work into wardrobe choices than their songs; Montreal’s SoCalled, cuts an unlikely, self-deprecating figure. When not playing piano, accordion, singing or triggering beats and samples onstage as SoCalled; Montreal’s Josh Dolgin, is combing the bargain shops and bazaars for esoteric vinyl, plotting out his next concert, magic performance, or painstakingly arranging a song in his cluttered Montreal apartment. The generosity of Dolgin is readily displayed by this documentary, as he shares his love of drastically different styles of music first with musicians and songwriters and then with bewildered but soon-to-be enchanted, audiences.

Bespectacled, carelessly dressed and follically-challenged, Josh Dolgin, will not be mistaken for Justin Timberlake any time soon. Celebrity and the trappings thereof, are not Dolgin’s currency. What Director Gerry Beitel’s film makes clear, is Dolgin’s avid enthusiasm and musical curiosity, which seem virtually unchanged from the home movies of a grinning kid playing piano, to a 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist wowing an Apollo Theater crowd in New York City. The songwriter and arranger, seems equally comfortable working with a 94-year-old pianist (Irving Fields), a fifty-something Klezmer clarinettist (David Krakauer) and a more contemporary rapper (C-Rayz Waltz ). SoCalled’s permanent partner-in-crime, Montreal singer,Katie Moore, provides a serene, melancholy counterweight to Dolgin’s kid-in-a-candystore eclecticism. The film’s producers and Director Gerry Beitel, embrace the quirkiness of their subject by letting SoCalled speak for himself. They also show Dolgin delving into cartoons and a diary from his childhood. Two self-authored short films by Dolgin are even inserted into this warm, light-hearted portrait.

Actually an amalgamation of eighteen short films, SoCalled the film, is divided into segments, each with their own animated title. Some titles are given the names of songs, some are derived from telling quotes. Each segment sheds light on the creative intelligence and drive of SoCalled. From Montreal’s Mile-end district to Paris, to the Ukraine, Dolgin pursues his singular vision combining old school funk, klezmer, and hip hop with upbeat rap & pop vocals. Classifying Dolgin’s music is pretty much impossible, which is part of the point of his musical approach. While coaxing wildly diverse samples together, and somehow recruiting the expertise of largely forgotten masters like Fred Wesley (of James Brown fame) , Dolgin celebrates cultural differences while matter-of-factly rejecting the cultural barriers that so many artists don’t seem to question. Dolgin’s music features anti-cool references to religious music from his own Jewish heritage, sentimental piano melodies, and klezmer-inspired soloing; and emerges refreshingly unpredictable in a sea of musical conformity.

Whatever it’s failings, this film turns a spotlight on the character of a dedicated artist and it’s tough not to feel a bit of a soft spot for this plucky, restless talent. Sure you can dismiss him as deliberately backwater; but consider that the SoCalled video for “You Are Never Alone” garnered two million hits on youtube. These days “backwater”, was never a more fleeting state. SoCalled the Movie, is at the very least, one heck of a promotional tool and being seen and heard is the greatest challenge for any songwriter/performer these days. SoCalled may just be on his way to becoming the Woody Allen of Rap.

A few of the “punks” being paraded across the airwaves by MTV or MuchMusic, might want to consider whether SoCalled’s approach is actually closer to the original punk ethos than their own. That said, this film will probably prove too slow for the two-Red-Bulls-a-day crowd. The editing of the film isn’t particularly effective in matching the emotional tone and dynamism of the music for any length of time. Some scenes transition very poorly and almost no effort at placing SoCalled’s music in a broader context and seeking out critical discussion is in evidence. This is a friendly film about a group of diverse friends making music. To be fair, brief references to the murder of thousands of Ukranian Jews and the frustrating and insulating use of culture and religious belief are touched upon for a couple moments. Cinematography is clearly not the forte of this product of three years and many authors. The occasional shot of real beauty usually stands out like a sore thumb.

On the subject of sore thumbs, of the hundreds of Montrealers who turned out to see the Montreal premiere and the live performance that followed, some probably had sore hands in the morning. The crowd clapped and sang along to songs like. “You are Never Alone” and the finale, “These Are The Good Old Days”, while a sweaty six-member band made the best of it. The confines of the Ukranian Federation, (on Hutchison street) felt like a virtual love-in as friends and family of the filmmakers and Josh Dolgin had obviously attended in full force. When the last SoCalled number concluded, the band started to wind down with some lighter jazz. Dolgin’s singular musical vision rose to the occasion. “No jazz”,he said, “no jazz”. The band halted. Would Justin Timberlake have had the guts to do that? With the melody of “These are the good old days” still in their heads, the smiling crowd started filing out into the rainy Montreal night.


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