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SXSW Doc Review Recap: Snoop Lion In 'Reincarnated,' Alex Winter's 'Downloaded' & More

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 18, 2013 at 7:48PM

If the South by Southwest Film Festival was burdened by anything this year, it was an abundance of quality documentaries. It seemed that, while the narrative side of things was surprisingly sparse (where was the "21 Jump Street" or "The Raid" of this year?), the documentary selection was stronger than ever – there were more buzzed-about entries than we had time for, quite frankly (sorry "Medora!"), and almost everything we saw impressed us to one degree or another. Here is a quick rundown of a handful of key SXSW documentaries – "Lunarcy!," about people obsessed with the moon; "Downloaded," which aims to be the definitive documentary about file sharing program Napster; "Twenty Feet from Stardom," which charts the history of pop music from the backup singers' point of view; "Reincarnated," about Snoop Dogg's transformation into reggae titan Snoop Lion; and "I Am Divine," about director John Waters' corpulent muse, cross-dressing sensation Divine.
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Snoop Lion, Reincarnated

"Reincarnated" (Andy Capper)
Yes! It's the documentary we were all anxiously awaiting, one that chronicles fabled gangster rapper Snoop Dogg's transformation, via Rastafarianism and a small cargo-hold full of weed, into Snoop Lion, a peace-loving reggae traditionalist! And while this is pretty shoddy pretext for a feature-length documentary (one produced by Vice), it ends up being a fairly entertaining romp just the same.

Snoop's spiritual transformation oftentimes feels like little more than an elaborate put-on, as he meets with Nyabinghi Rasta and other Jamaican legends in a supposed quest for enlightenment. This transition might have come from within, but it reeks of a intricate form of personal rebranding. It also just seems like an excuse for Snoop to smoke even more weed than normal, a notion once thought to be scientifically impossible. Far more interesting are the biographical and historical moments, when Snoop talks about his past as a gangbanger and his beginnings in the rap business. He speaks with unflinching honesty, takes on a kind of hushed, confessional tone. It's pretty compelling stuff, too, full of violence, betrayal, questionable business dealings and strained friendships. We never thought we'd hear the words "Master P saved me" come out of someone's mouth, but there is Snoop, saying it aloud.

Also of note is Snoop's friendship and creative partnership with en vogue producer Diplo, who is helping load the Snoop Lion project with (it must be admitted) some pretty wicked beats. As the mastermind of the sonic side of the Snoop Lion endeavor, Diplo seems committed too, and if this whole thing is all a ruse and not a genuine quest for spiritual betterment, at least it's a really cool-sounding ruse. [B-]

"I Am Divine"

"I Am Divine" (Jeffrey Schwarz)
The mythos of John Waters seems to have been mined to death. There are the books that Waters has written, which sit alongside the commentary tracks he's recorded, frequent interviews, and supplemental materials on the DVDs, adding to a wealth of information found in unofficial materials, like the great documentary about his early days "Divine Trash." It might occur to you that another documentary about a Waters confederate, this time focused solely on Harris Glenn Mistead, aka drag performer Divine, would simply be overkill. And it kind of is. But that's the point.

"I Am Divine" is just as garish, splashy, and loud as Divine himself – it's all glittery eye make-up and off-color dick jokes and snazzy animated graphics. What's so shocking is how kind of profound it is, with Divine coming across as a genuine trailblazer, one who challenged gender roles and notions of body image and traditional beauty, a person who lived an incredibly complex inner life and who worked really, really hard.

Of course that makes everything seem so serious, which, despite its melancholy ending (Divine died tragically at the age of 42, a day before he was supposed to start an extended stint on "Married… With Children"), "I Am Divine" most certainly is not. It is first and foremost a hoot, featuring a number of hilarious interviews with Waters and the various collaborators from back then (including Mink Stole, Tab Hunter and members of drag queen group The Cockettes) and lots of little seen footage of Divine's stage shows, which seemed like a hilarious, totally gay assault.

This is the definitive biography of Divine, too, delving into his music career, his lovers, and his addictions (although only fleetingly – remember, this doc is all about pep and sparkle). For a subject that seems to have been overexposed, there are some new insights and footage that we have personally never seen before despite being keenly interested in the subject matter. Divine was a big guy with a big heart, and this documentary does him justice and then some. [A] 

This article is related to: Downloaded, John Waters, Snoop Dogg, Reincarnated, Alex Winter, SXSW Film Festival, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Review, Reviews


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