n this November edition of Rogue Cinema, you lucky readers have the distinct privilege of reading about two films from the Neutral Density film house. The first was the (excellent) Mantis, a film about spousal abuse, emotional deprivation and the isolation brought about by an out-dated and un-caring system. How does the team of director Brendon Foster-Algoo and producer Barry Choi follow this up? With… a documentary about a kid who plays drums. The fact that both pieces were made at about the same time must have made for one hell of an interesting shooting schedule. But hey, enough of that.
According to their website (www.neutraldensityfilms.com ) this short documentary has recently been admitted into the Northern Independent Film Festival, and has been receiving an encouraging level of praise from various film critics around the world. All this builds up to high expectations for the piece, especially considering my enjoyment of their aforementioned previous piece.
The documentary focuses around an 11 year old boy and his love of drums and rock music in general. He’s something of a child prodigy, playing the instrument with a degree of skill usually sought after by members of most veteran rock bands. (His influences include the Smashing Pumpkins and The Refused. I gotta hand it to the little guy – he knows his shit.)
As well as focusing on the boy’s remarkable talent, the film also interviews his family – a group of immigrants coming to America to find work. His mother, for instance, has worked at the local KFC for 20 years just to put food on the family table. This cultural shit may well have caused difficulties in our little man’s life, given his parent’s poor grasp of the English language. As a result, his older brothers (also in the band) have developed a sort of surrogate parental relationship, schooling him in both the ways of music and of life itself.
Or so one would assume, given that during the documentary’s crushingly short runtime. While the interviews are entertaining and sometimes enthralling, they do little to scratch the surface. Yes, we find out about Wonderboy’s family situation, but its effects or sources are barely (if at all) investigated. You pick up quickly that the brothers have all but raised our musical hero, but again the effects of this are barely looked into.
While the characters in here are all highly interesting slices of modern life, they seem to be barely exploited to their documented potential. What we have here is a potentially invigorating situation, with Wonderboy’s potential fame, the effects of talent and recognition versus natural growth. If anything this documentary raises a multitude of questions without even attempting to answer them. What effect will this musical journey have on his life? How will his budding musical career affect this already stretched family? What does all this say about current family trends, the role of the individual within the family unit, or even the effect that language barriers can have on a growing child? What about the pressures of fame, the way it twists not only people’s lives, but perceptions of reality? How will this be effected?
While this review sounds perhaps overly harsh of this documentary, I feel these points are important and need to be made. The way in which the documentary is made is excellent, the production values are very high. The subject matter is certainly intriguing, and makes for great viewing. The central character is a very charismatic little boy who’s both insightful in his interviews, and yet heart-warming. And there’s no doubt as to the boy’s talent either, although I was disappointed not to see the band play an entire song together. While the footage of the band jamming in a bedroom is very well done, we never get to see how they perform in a live setting, in front of a crowd. Do this band even do live gigs? It’d be fascinating to see Wonderboy cope under pressure, or to see a crowd’s reaction to watching an 11 year old kicking ass behind the drum kit.
The Rhythm Of Youth is a strong bit of film, but cut way too short. It gives the viewer a taste of the potential the subject matter has to offer, but then finished abruptly, leaving this reviewer frustrated at an opportunity lost. While very well done and entertaining, I couldn’t help but think of the wider issues avoided. What it all boils down to is less than 10 minutes about a talented kid who likes to make noise. Yet it could have been so much more.