Director and historian Nelson George has teamed up with Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson, frontman of The Roots, to tell the tale of funk music. "Finding the Funk" is a fantastic music documentary packed with interviews, concert footage and all the gaudy images that make up this pungent brand of R&B and soul. The film pays tribute to the hippy slap bass of Sly and the Family Stone, the raw funk sampling of hip-hop and the neo-rock/funk fusion that Prince made popular.
"Finding The Funk" begins, aptly, with a 1980s vintage James Brown interview. The Godfather of Soul's self-proclaimed ownership over the genre is not without justification, seeing how he made himself the poster boy for the entire musical movement. Right off the bat, James preaches the gospel of 'The One': the ever important element within the rhythm that takes soul and throws it into the funk realm. Questlove is the audience's personal funk guide from that point forward, and he lovingly explains the importance of jazz, country and blues in the eventual creation of funk music as we know it today.
Interviews begin rolling out with some of the biggest names in the business. Bootsy Collins of the James Brown Band and Parliament Funkedelic features prominently in the doc, offering notes from his devotion to the craft and looking larger than life in his signature top hat and jewel-encrusted sunglasses. Other heartfelt funk testimonials are offered by George Clinton of P-Funk, Mike D of The Beastie Boys, Sheila E from the Prince camp, neo funk prodigy D'Angelo and a startlingly candid conversation with Sly Stone. It should be noted that Stone rarely does interviews, living out of the public eye and at times found living in poverty. The film is also laced with onscreen written interludes called 'Funk Chunks,' giving further information about the talent onscreen.
Once the roots of funk are explained, the Sly Stone story becomes an important one. Band member Larry Graham introduced the signature slaps and pops on electric bass that became synonymous within the genre. Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Chic, The Ohio Players, Zapp, Parliament, War, Cameo, Prince, Digital Underground and Public Enemy are all topics of discussion in "Finding the Funk," and their donations to the craft are thoroughly explored.
Questlove certainly is a proud and competent narrator throughout the film, even celebrating funk's viral journey into the music of Brazil and Africa and noting its healthy influence on countless jam bands, from Phish to The Disco Biscuits. His one lament is that that funk is both everywhere and nowhere. The beats, the horns and time signatures of funk are so prevalent in modern popular music that they almost go unnoticed as pop's steadfast backbone.
This is why "Finding the Funk" works so well. The grooves needed praise and context, and Nelson George has accomplished that mission. If there is one complaint about this doc, it is one shared with dozens of other historical music documentaries: Not enough music! There is so much time spent analyzing and reminiscing that the film may leave you craving for more tunes. I have repeated numerous quotes from Bootsy Collins and George Clinton since viewing this doc. Their sense of humor and love for the music is so infectious; it's easy to get on board the funk train.
Don't miss this doc; it brings attention to this vital and under-appreciated subcategory of music history.
"Finding The Funk" screenings:
Tue, Apr 30 7:00 PM The Royal Cinema
Thu, May 2 4:30 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 4 1:30 PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Full schedule of Hot Docs screenings
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