Crowd-Pleasing Tunes: Our Review of ‘Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 31, 2017
Crowd-Pleasing Tunes: Our Review of ‘Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World’

Every year there are a few music documentaries that perform the delicate balancing act of being informative and crowd-pleasing at the same time. Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a film that fits the criteria.

Winner of both the Audience Award at Hot Docs and the Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling at Sundance this year, the film offers a thorough and eye-opening look at the historical contributions of indigenous musicians to the American music landscape.

Tracing things back to Link Wray’s ground-breaking distorted guitar work on his song “Rumble”, an instrumental tune that was both banned for obscenity by many American radio stations and praised by generations of musicians, the film details how the song forever changed rock ‘n’ roll music. Along with showcasing indigenous contributions to the evolution of rock music, blues, jazz, folk, pop and even hip hop, Rumble also highlights how indigenous music has served as a foundation for many of the cultural touchstones, take Mardi Gras for example, in society.

Featuring the likes of Robertson, Martin Scorsese, Steven Tyler, Buffy St. Marie, Elliot Easton, Steven Van Zandt, Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas and a cavalcade of musicians, journalist and authors, the film has no shortage of intriguing insights. Everything from vocal rhythms to certain musical phrasings is linked to indigenous roots.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is most effective when reflecting on the historical hardships the indigenous community has endured in America. It is in these moments, where Bainbridge and Maiorana skillfully show how this social injustice frequently paralleled and intersected with the racism that African-Americans and other minority groups endured, where the film truly resonates with the viewer. Connecting this shared experience all the way back to slavery times, the film details how dangerous it was for a person to even be identified as being of indigenous heritage.

As Robbie Robertson points out, the saying “be proud you are an Indian, but be careful who you tell” was a matter of survival.

While Rumble effectively documents how the contributions of indigenous musicians can still be found music and pop culture, including films such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Pulp Fiction, the film is not without its flaws. The main stumbling block for the film is that is does not deviate from the typical talking-heads structure of other music docs. Furthermore, the film often feels like a series of vignettes, jumping from one musical style to the next, rather than being a truly fluid tale.

Fortunately, the structural issues will not faze audiences much as they will be too wrapped up in the engaging stories, and toe-tapping tunes, on display to notice. This is ultimately the most charming aspect of Rumble, the subject matter sails on its enlightening and catchy cords that one will not mind if the minor notes are missed.

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Courtney has been sharing his thoughts on film online since 2006. The founder of Cinema Axis, he frequently celebrates diversity in cinema as one of the co-hosts of the Changing Reels podcast on Modern Superior. A regular on the Regent Radio program Frameline, Courtney has contributed to several publications including Black Girl Nerds, Comix Asylum Magazine and The Grid Does TIFF. He is also a member of both the Canadian Association of Online Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society.