Two Hollywood players have taken their love of music—and their passion for specific musical acts—and turned that into two rock-and-sock-’em documentaries that left me drumming my fingers nonstop on my seat’s armrest while watching these films unspool.
Actor and native New Yorker Michael Rapaport (you might remember him best from his memorable guest stint on “Friends”—at least I do) has been a lifelong fan of hip-hop pioneers A Tribe Called Quest, who started out in Queens. He now makes this directorial debut with “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” a trippy, funk-laced excursion that tracks the group from their childhood days to their booming success in the ‘80s and ‘90s to their abrupt dissolution in 1998 to their tense reunion tour 10 years later. It’s a captivating survey of the impact the group has had on future generations of hip-hop artists, and big names like Pharrell Williams, Mos Def and the Beastie Boys pop up to give due props to them. Admittedly, I was only marginally familiar with ATCQ before this screening (I first came across a song of theirs in 1992 on the “Boomerang” soundtrack—go figure!), but I left it fully hooked on their story, and their sound. No doubt die-hard fans will get a real kick out of this reverential tribute.
Over on the West Coast, filmmaker Cameron Crowe trained his camera on Elton John and iconic rock keyboardist Leon Russell and chronicled their recent collaboration on the critically acclaimed album “The Union,” which is also now the title of his new documentary on them. (It opened the festival this year.) In a way for Cameron, it’s a return to his roots—he famously got his start as a young music reporter for Rolling Stone, and his experiences there formed the basis of his Oscar-wining screenplay for 2000’s “Almost Famous.” The guy sure knows how to craft a rock ‘n’ roll story, and “The Union” is a fascinating ballad, keying in to Elton John’s creative process (this is the first time the singer allowed cameras to capture him writing songs) while paying homage to the inspirational genius of Leon Russell, whose wild keyboard riffs (and even wilder mane and beard) are legendary. The result is a toe-tapping creative summit of two keyboard savants that brims with affection, nostalgia and abundant doses of shoop-shoop exuberance. —Alexis L. Loinaz
Check out our picks for must-see films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival