Amandla! A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony Movie Review

I'm used to being branded a cynic, heathen, asshole, or what have you, but once again I have to admit I found myself toiling to get through a documentary about an obscure subject matter... only to find myself still as ambivalent about the issue as I was before starting the film.

This time it's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, which outlines the role that homegrown music had during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Obscure? You bet! Incredibly interesting? Not in the slightest!

Amandla! (translation: Power!) largely consists of interviews with various organizers who lived through apartheid, reminiscing about the battles they fought and the songs they sang. The songs are recreated in the present and/or shown via archive footage. They unilaterally are translated via subtitles with lyrics like "White man, watch out for the black man!" and "The white man, he makes us live in these shanty towns!"

In other words, not a lot of subtlety and not a lot of variation. Even funeral dirges bemoan the evil white man.

Now before you get your panties in a twist, I am not trying to say this is a bad message. The white man is bad. He's real bad. I agree just how bad he is. You don't need to write to me to tell me how bad apartheid was and how insensitive I am for not giving this movie five stars because it's about apartheid and how ignorant the world is about apartheid and so on. You will anyway, but you'd don't need to. Apartheid is bad. The white man is bad. It's all bad. Real bad.

But this 100-minute documentary about the music sang during apartheid is simply not good. It is endlessly repetitive and, to be frank, boring, and it adds little to our understanding of life under apartheid. The songs are okay, but they sound very similar: all acapella chant-style songs with variable lyrics and questionable harmony. (And I don't know where this "four-part harmony" bit is coming from; few of the songs have any harmony at all and those that do only have two parts. Note to filmmaker Lee Hirsch: A bunch of people singing out of key is not a four-part harmony.)

Now Hirsch has obviously poured his soul into this movie and I don't want to be the party crasher, but really, did you need to make an exhaustive feature film on the subject? For such an obscure and quirky subject, wouldn't a ten-minute short film be plenty of time to explore the subject matter in full instead of boring us to tears by repeating yourself over and over and over again? It was for me.

Raisin' the roof.

Comments

Amandla! A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2002

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