Beyond Beats & Heavy Metal Jr.

A two for one at Hot Docs . Both focus on particular music genres and both are very different. The first, Heavy Metal Jr., is a 24 minute short following the metal dreams of a group of Scottish headbangers as they work towards their first gig. The catch? The band members are all between 10 and 12 years old.

The material is light and was loved by the audience who roared with amusement at the antics of a 10 year old lead singer, his yelping, preening voice-coach father/manager, and the ordeal of finding a replacement bassist 2 weeks before the gig at a country fair. Despite the appreciative audience, I found HM-Jr a disappointment.

First, the film has a home-movie feel that screams amateur production. The camera is often hand-held and shaky, even in scenes when a tripod could/should have been used, and for a production in which the subject is music the sound is terribly under-recorded producing an obtrusive hiss every time someone speaks. While many docs use the verite-style out of necessity but to great effect, in this movie it feels like lazy filmmaking.

Second, though it was amusing, Heavy Metal Jr. relied too much on cheap laughs. Yes, it's entertaining to see a grown man trying to teach his son how to have a proper metal stage presence or to watch pre-teens write lyrics about their love of Satan but there's little substance. The boys will face an obstacle such as the difficulty of writing a third song to add to the band's repertoire and within 60 seconds it's overcome. No tension, no drama, and, though director Chris Waitt is obviously fond of his subjects, there's little substance here.


Conversely, the second film of this double feature, Beyond Beats is multi-dimensional and thought provoking. Director Byron Hurt takes us into the hip hop culture because he wants to examine the elements that have transformed hip hop into a culture of misogyny, homophobia, gun worship, crass materialism, and hatred.

It wasn't always this way for hip hop and that's why Hurt made Beyond Beats. He loves the genre so much that he must criticize it while examining the problems that have put Hip Hop into a gangsta-mentality box since 1993. And it's a box that it can't break out of. Think of it - a once vibrant music culture that has scarcely progressed in 13 years (which, in music industry time, is an eternity) except to become more graphic in its bullet spewing and objectification of women. What happened to revolutionary hip hop music such as that made by Public Enemy which pushed counter-culture boundaries and questioned the status quo of blacks in the U.S.?

Interviewing such hip hop and rap luminaries as Chuck D, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, and Mos Def director Hurt delves into the causes for hip hop's gangsta stagnation. Like any artistic issue, there is no solitary answer explaining hip hop's current condition but, rather, a combination of forces:
- It comes from an industry that knows it can sell drive-by shootings, pimps and "hoes" to white kids and therefore only encourages black artists to sing about those narrow topics.
-It comes from a nation built on violence and which has worshipped the gun since the days of westward expansion.
-It comes from hip hop's roots in the Bronx where the construction of a highway in the 50's and 60's severed a neighbourhood from the rest of the city and thus created a ghetto of violence from which hip hop was eventually birthed.

Hurt shows us that the problems are perpetuated by young men on BET spring break who feel there's nothing wrong with sexually harassing any woman showing even a crack of cleavage because they're "only bitches" and who, when asked to bust out a quick rap, can only spout lyrics of 9mm guns and putting down other men as "punk ass bitches". But these same men can't even recognize the obvious homoeroticism in music videos that glorify the well-oiled bare abs of 50 Cent.

Hip hop IS stuck in a box. Hurt hopes this insightful, probing, and often amusing examination can help hip hop break out to once again become a dynamic culture that questions authority and the status quo but the difficulty is in this excellent film finding its audience. At a packed ROM Theatre which seated 300 patrons I did a quick count and could only identify a dozen black faces...

Beyond Beats and Heavy Metal Jr screen again on Saturday, May 6 at 1:30 pm at the NFB Cinema, 150 John Street.

Image from B.Beats borrowed from
Metal image from

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