Quick take: Finding Fela ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 6, 2014)

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The first 15 minutes or so of director Alex Gibney’s portrait of Nigerian music legend/political icon Fela Kuti teeters on becoming a parody of All That Jazz. Choreographer Bill T. Jones struts and frets upon the stage, rehearsing his company for a Broadway production of Fela! (it premiered back in 2009). Jones wrestles with how to convey the complexities of Kuti’s artistic, political and personal personas…while still retaining the catchy tunes and the jazz hands. However, just as you’re scratching your head and wondering if the real Fela will ever show up, he does; albeit in bits and pieces. With patience, you will grok the method to Gibney’s madness; he’s taking the tact that Al Pacino used in Looking for Richard; juxtaposing the theatrical with the historical to “find” his protagonist. While jarring at first, the theatrical framing makes more sense as the film progresses, functioning as a Greek chorus to bridge the archival snippets. While fans may not discover much that hasn’t already been revealed in previous documentaries, Gibney’s approach is fresh; bolstered by outstanding editing and slick production values.

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