Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Goran Olsson's extremely uneven "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" is a depressingly systematic and repetitive documentary that serves as a vehicle for valuable, recently found clips shot by Swedes during the eponymous time and regarding the eponymous movement. The group of people surveyed, from famous pioneers (Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis) to anonymous protesters and ex-addicts to the head of TV Guide, not to mention a sprinkling of modern voiceovers that include Talib Kwali and Questlove, is brilliantly diverse. But the strength from these interviews is diluted by the film's intense lack of focus and hammering, formulaic structure.

Olsson, along with Hanna Lejongvist, won an editing award at Sundance for finding a moderately coherent rhythm within tons of footage and marrying dozens of formats. To me, that's more just honoring the work than celebrating a real achievement. I don't think Olsson has much directorial control, as he often wanders and makes it seem as if the archives are thin. He has a motif of displaying the year in large print on the screen and noting every time a speaker changes, to keep things down. I can't say that these things made the film a more digestible experience, however, and, though one may argue that I'm being too pedantic about a potentially edifying work such as tis, I feel as though this film falls below the standards set by the top movies in the nonfiction cinema canon.

But there are strong stretches here, such as when Talib Kweli talks about the power of Stokely Carmichael, when Louis Farrakhan speaks avidly about the philosophy of the Nation of Islam, or when Angela Davis (caught in a bold, iconic close-up) expresses her frustration about the popular notion of violence. These are worth seeing. The rest is a mix of stylization and sharp preachiness, tolerable but hardly outstanding. I wish this project was in better hands. B-

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