By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 21, 2011 at 8:15AM
The 2011 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival ended last week Sunday. On the scene at the festival's North Carolina location was Shadow And Act woman-about-town, Ms Alece Oxendine.
While there, she saw a film called Take Me Away Fast, a title I profiled on the old S&A site in March, and which I expressed some concerns about, given the subject matter. In short, the film follows successful German DJ Frank Gossner on his journeys through West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin, specifically) in search of rare 1970s funk and Afrobeat records, which he buys, and takes these these cultural artifacts back to Germany to play for his European and American audiences.
I haven't seen the film yet, but, thankfully, Alece has, and she confirms some of my initial concerns in her review which follows below:
A couple weeks back, Tambay posted an entry profiling Take Me Away Fast and I had the chance to see it at Full Frame.
If you’re not familiar with Full Frame, it is a documentary film festival that premieres major documentaries from around the world and it just so happens to be in my hometown of Durham, NC :)
Take Me Away Fast screened after another short documentary about music called Sound Underground, a moving essay about musical performers on subway platforms. There are several other documentaries about these performers (one as recent as 2007 and with a suspiciously similar name) but none shot as beautiful as this one. The documentary captured these performers at their best-clean, perfect pitched and a sound that could as easily been produced in a studio (and probably was).
Sound Underground got up close and personal with the performers while still giving some distance; we do not know where they come from or why they perform, we just hear them and life moves on. This is evident with the constant passing of the trains that constantly interrupt the performances to remind us that we are on a subway platform and not in a symphony hall.
To New Yorkers who are familiar with, and sometimes annoyed with, the sounds of the underground, this piece attempts to romanticize these performers when we just tune them out. But there is always that one performer who we actually take the time to listen because they’re that good.
For me, in this film it was the Trombone Man’s solo; just sublime! If this film comes your way, it’s definitely worth seeing and listening to. Sound Underground invites you to take off your headphones and listen to the sounds we sometimes take for granted.
Before watching Take Me Away Fast, I tried to keep an open mind regardless of Tambay concerns about the film. The film focuses on a German DJ named Frank Gossner and his mission/life’s goal to find the best in Afrobeat and African funk music on vinyl, mix it, and play it in clubs.
Sounds harmless doesn’t it? The premise of this short documentary is interesting but it unfortunately comes off as pretentious.
Frank ventures to West Africa specially Ghana and Benin and is determined to find a long lost record by the African Brothers Band. He claimed he needed to find that record and the audience did not take him seriously. When expressing his concern about finding it, the audience, mostly white, laughed at him.
There was no arch, major discovery or climax to the film. Frank’s discovery of the long lost record became anti-climatic because we knew all along he would. Take Me Away Fast lacked substance and depth to convince an audience to feel something for the subject of the film. Most audiences do not relate with someone who comes off as arrogant, and I think this is where the documentary fails.
Overall, the documentary was well-intentioned but not well executed. Throughout the film, Frank claims that he wants to re-discover this wonderful music and spread the love of it in discos around the world. What’s so unfortunate is that he honestly thinks he is doing some good for the music and the people of Africa. But Frank’s arrogance stunk up the film, compromising what could have been a very interesting and compelling documentary about Afrobeat and African funk music.
Quite frankly he was not that interesting but I found the African musicians he interviewed such as Gustave Bentho of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo. The best parts of the films were when the musicians spoke about rediscovering their music.
On the technical side, there were several inconsistencies especially with the editing, camerawork and sound. I’ve learned not to really pay attention to technical stuff in documentaries because my focus is usually on the subject. But I did not have anything else to pay attention to besides the music in the film.
The music he found was nothing short of amazing so I cannot blame him; the music moves the soul. It’s just the way he comes about them that can rub most audiences the wrong way.
Frank does acknowledge how it can be seen as “cultural imperialism” but justifies himself by claiming he paid good money for those records. My main issue was not the alleged cultural imperialism, but rather that some of these people who made this beautiful music are still living and need more recognition. But let’s face it, Frank is not a cultural anthropologist, he’s definitely not a filmmaker and he’s not that interesting. At the end of the day, he’s just a DJ and we should not expect more from him or this film. He’s not trying to change the world; he’s just trying to throw one helluva party.