Made In Jamaica (2006)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Made In Jamaica</strong> (2006)

(In theaters, February 2009) More of an extended multi-artist music video anthology with added contextual material than a true documentary, Made In Jamaica refuse to provide narration or explanation, relying solely on captured footage and interviews. Alas, the filmmakers rarely question what their interview subjects tell them, and the result is a quick introduction to reggae-dancehall that quickly becomes a frustrating superficial look at a multi-faceted issue. While it touches upon most of the aspects of the modern Jamaican reggae culture (the poverty, the aggression, the misogyny, the roots/dancehall split), it says little on some of its most damning aspects and almost nothing at all about its regressive take on heteronormativity. There are about half a dozen junctions where the film ventures into something interesting, then shies away from it. For instance, a pretty good moment when the film contrasts Elephant Man’s rote statements about promoting peace with concert footage where he sings about killing other people, is as close as the film gets to questioning its subjects. Another example of the film’s occasional gems is Lady Saw’s frank admission that she became a rude girl for purely commercial reasons, buried in a too-short look at the genre’s troubling male-dominated culture. For a dancehall fan such as myself, one of the film’s big ironies was that the musical performances I enjoyed the most (Third World’s “96 degrees in the Shade”, Gregory Isaac’s “No Woman No Cry” and a wild cross-cultural take on “I Shot the Sheriff”) were firmly on the roots divide, and the smartest interview subjects were also the roots people. I have long suspected that I would like reggae-dancehall a lot less if I understood the lyrics, and Made In Jamaica went a long way in confirming this suspicion. Good but hardly transcendent, this is a gateway documentary that often works better as an extended video musical anthology: Some of the sights are spectacular, and it is a treat to actually see some familiar names signing.

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