Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Jake Meginsky's documentary, MILFORD GRAVES FULL MANTIS, opens in theaters

The new documentary about evidently-famous percussionist Milford Graves entitled MILFORD GRAVES FULL MANTIS begins with the following quote from Mr. Graves: "Look at the room downstairs. Look at the garden outside. Don't try to analyze it. Just take it in." Hang on to that statement because it is probably the most intelligent and interesting thing you'll hear for the next 91 minutes. Halfway through the doc, I became so frustrated and angry that I had to stop and refer to the press materials that accompanied the film. (I rarely do this, as I prefer to see a film knowing as little about it going in as possible.)

What I learned via those press materials was that the film's director, Jake Meginsky (shown at left), is evidently an enormous fan of the work of Milford Graves and so one day presented himself as an acolyte/student of the master, who over time seems to have become a kind of mentor to Meginsky, who clearly wanted to memorialize his idol via this film.

Instead he has allowed Graves (shown below) to ramble on throughout the documentary, sharing with us his thoughts on just about everything and anything to the point that the man begins to look like a complete narcissist who must, along with his "ideas," always be the absolute center of attention.

The apotheosis of this (and the nadir of the film) is reached during a lengthy, rambling remembrance from Graves about the time his teenage son appeared to be in the midst of being murdered downstairs on the sidewalk in front of the family's Brooklyn home. How this tale of terror turns into yet another example of narcissistic nonsense in which Mr. Graves becomes the center of attention is remarkable indeed. And unless I missed it somewhere, we never do find out what happened to the son!

The filmmaker seems to have tried, in his way, to turn his movie into a kind of visual equivalent of jazz -- combining interviews past and present with "musical" sections and polarizations/solarizations that maybe indicate that we (or his subject) are on some kind of acid trip. It is all too much -- yet not nearly enough.

Along the way, we get some of Graves' history, his theories -- animal, mineral and medical -- his martial arts/mantis training (which I suspect, to an actual martial artist, will look pretty amateur), and his work in medical laboratories which leads to his recording of and theories about the sound of heartbeats.

Graves' drumming solos (as above) have a kind of spastic spontaneity, but the too-lengthy musical interludes, including one percussion'dance number (below), do not make much of a case for his or their artistry. Nor is his explanation of how a plant moves anything close to the profound. There's some talk about the cosmos, if you're a fan of that sort of thing, but TrustMovies will take an actual scientific documentary such as Particle Fever for his "cosmos" experience.

Finally, the director's attempt at "stylish" touches -- from garden florals (which I admit are pretty) to stop-motion photos (below) -- simply call attention to themselves, as well as to the lack of content here. Clearly I am not the right audience for this documentary, as I found it one of the least persuasive and most embarrassingly amateur endeavors I have seen. But since it did win the Independent Vision Jury Prize at the Sarasota Film Festival, perhaps there is an audience out there.

Viewers will have the opportunity to find out, when Milford Graves Full Mantis, from The Cinema Guild, opens theatrically in New York City (at the The Metrograph) this Friday, July 13, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 on Friday, July 27, to be followed by a limited nationwide release. 

No comments: