Friday, March 18, 2016

Documentary Fest!! Jaco (2015); The Great Wing Hunt (2013); King of Arcades (2014)

Jaco (2015)

Directors: Stephen Kijak and Paul Marchand

I'm always fascinated by genius in its various forms. The documentary Jaco is a very well-done study of the life of the singular musical genius John "Jaco" Pastorius, the man who many great modern musicians consider the greatest electric bass player of all time.

I had never heard of Pastorius. Fortunately, the documentary is accessible to someone like me, as it provides solid background about Jaco's early life growing up in south Florida. We get to see how he grew up around music, and how this sparked his innate facility to translate his thoughts and feelings into music. Before he was even 20 years old, Jaco was already a known and sought-after talent among jazz musicians who were morphing the style into more modern forms. The documentary includes an amazing quantity of testimonials from some of the biggest and most-respected musicians from the last 40-odd years. It's one thing to hear about a person's genius from his close friends. It's another to hear about them from John Coltrane, Sting, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Flea, Joni Mitchell, and other titans of music.

As many such stories go, Jaco's had a sad ending. He died at the tragically young age of 35 years old. While it was not the result of a malignant illness, Pastorius did suffer mental disorders that were perhaps hinted at earlier in life. Eventually, his condition became severe enough that it had drowned out his immense musical talent. It is ultimately a tale of the fine line between genius and insanity, not unlike other well-known tales like that of David Helfgott, Syd Barrett, or Brian Wilson.

This film tells Jaco's tale in a compelling way, for the most part going chronologically through his rise to and fall from prominence in the musical world. Along with the numerous interviews with Jaco's collaborators and copious concert footage, there is an amazing amount of home video. These latter portions help humanize a man who might otherwise be considered a more mythical legend, rather than a rounded person who laughed, joked, and played with his children. Such images drive home the tragedy of Pastorius's ultimate fate.

One of the great takeaways of any great music documentary is the discovery of music which you may have never heard before. This is definitely the case with my experience with Jaco. While I had heard of several of the bands and musicians in the film, I was not terribly familiar with their music. I found much of what I heard in the movie very appealing, though, and I have already started listening to some of Pastorius's solo albums and his work with The Weather Report. This documentary is already enhancing my appreciation for music which I had never before considered.

The Great Chicken Wing Hunt (2013)

Director: Matt Reynolds

I had every intention of only giving this movie about 15 minutes of my time. Imagine my surprise when I gladly watched the entire thing.

While I appreciate a good Buffalo-style chicken wing, I am far from an aficionado. Despite this, The Great Chicken Wing Hunt was great fun to watch. It follows Matt Reynolds, an American journalist with a passion for wings. Reynolds lived and worked in Slovakia, where he introduced many of his local friends to Buffalo wings. His work didn't stop there, though. Reynolds became possessed by the idea of finding the best Buffalo wings in the "Wing Belt," the area around Buffalo, New York, where many cooks take great pride in their wing recipes. Reynolds quit his writing job, rounded up several "wing experts," hired a camera crew from among his Slovakian friends, and went on a three-week marathon of wing consumption that would put most people in the hospital with congestive heart failure.

The group of wing experts is a colorful bunch, consisting of several oddballs with rather large personalities. Their enthusiasm can be a joy to watch, even for those of us who are nowhere near as picky about what amounts to cheap pub grub. The Slovakian team, while dedicated and skilled videographers, exhibit hilarious reactions to Reynolds's quirky dedication to his goal, which often confounds them. The interplay between the different groups is alone worth viewing.

This documentary is not a major commitment. In a concise 71 minutes, we get the history of the Buffalo wing, the entire journey of Reynolds's group, and their final decision on the best wing in the country. We also get Reynolds's relationship with his ever-so-patient girlfriend, who deals with the stress of going along with such a bizarre journey. All of the stories come full circle, making for a very satisfying viewing experience. Don't be surprised if you come away with a serious hankering for some good chicken wings.

King of Arcades (2014)

Director: Sean Tiedeman

Low-budget, local documentary with a fairly limited appeal.

King of Arcades is a blend of self-promotion and love letter to classic arcade games.

Produced by its subject, Richie "Knuckles", this documentary traces Richie's love of classic console arcade games, from his time as a child of the 1980s up to the current day. The documentary spends a nice amount of the first half hour or so laying out the history of arcade games. For someone like me, who has always loved such games, this was as compelling as anything else in the movie. The filmmakers did nab interviews with some of the heavy hitters in the history of arcade gaming, which makes these sections worthy entries into the documented history of this modern phenomenon of entertainment.

The rest of the documentary focuses on Knucklez himself, who is of moderate interest, but perhaps overvalues just how fascinating he is. His background as a hardcore rock singer adds a bit of spice, but is hardly the stuff of supreme curiosity. Seeing him track down and refurbish old consoles, while not exactly gripping, does illustrate his deep love and commitment to the games with which he stocks his arcade in western New Jersey.

King of Arcades is probably about 15 to 20 minutes too long, and it suffers from a touch of narcissism. Still, it's worth watching for fans of old-school arcade games. It also profiles a nice go-to arcade where they still know what old-school gamers like.