The "Socalled" Movie

The "Socalled" Movie


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Meet Socalled (actually called Josh). He's a hip hop guy, a funkster, a klezmer musician; he's really more of a behind the camera kind of guy. Josh enjoys taking diverse musical traditions and drawing them together to explore their parallel evolution, creating new sounds. Tiny samples of sound from old records fill in the gaps and are synthesised into the rhythms that underscore these creations. It's an incredibly geeky way to produce music but Josh clearly loves it. He's not a virtuoso at any instrument, he explains, really just a dilettante. Is he fair to himself? He comes across more as a musical polymath; a dilettante who is actually good at it.

This is a documentary mainly aimed at existing fans. Over two million people have watched Josh's YouTube videos so he's hopeful that they'll come out in force to see the film. Newcomers may find it hard to get into because we are only played short snatches of all this interesting music, enough to provide prompts for those familiar with it but not enough to provide a proper introduction for strangers, not enough to tell us where Josh's ideas are going or why we should care. There are some really impressive virtuosos involved but we rarely get to hear more than a single short solo from each of them.

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What's left is a portrait of the man. Much of the time Josh seems a bit bored. This, he tells us, is the reality of rock n' roll - a lot of waiting around and sexual frustration. The film comes alive at the moments when he talks about his personal life, going through assorted objects in his childhood room. Discussions of his attempts to reconcile his continuing love of Jewish culture with his atheism are nothing new, but his sudden decision to demand a go with the documentary makers' equipment, producing his own (technically impressive) short film, has real charm. As he interacts with his various musical idols we can see how passionate he is about what he does; it's just a shame that passion contributes so little to the film overall.

Fans of Socalled will find this a workmanlike but satisfying portrait, though much is left unsaid. Others might be better off looking him up on YouTube.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2011
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The story of rapper Josh Dolgin, alias Socalled, and his fusion of hip hop with traditional Jewish music.
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Director: Garry Beitel

Year: 2010

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Canada

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