I marvel sometimes about the random, tiny coincidences that marry my working profession with my personal life. To explain, I had been trying to find a unique birthday present for my girlfriend and had my heart set upon getting her a Hello Kitty ukulele I had seen in a San Francisco Sanrio shop almost a year ago. Unfortunately, said item is apparently only available in that exact shop, as searching other Sanrio stores (and using the intarwebs) consistently came up empty.
It was during those searches, however, that I came across a Flying V ukulele from Elderly Instruments in Michigan (far and away a better idea than the Hello Kitty one, because this uke was way more aggro). So I purchased said item and lo and behold it arrived at my doorstep in all its Flying V glory. As I looked at it, I thought to myself, “How clever! Such a cute instrument shaped so bad-a*s! Why haven’t more people connected rock with the ukulele? Oh, right, because it’s a ukulele.”
I started about packing up some films to send out to our many dedicated film reviewers when I came across a DVD named “Rock That Uke.” A documentary, “Rock That Uke” was all about those that still carry the ukulele high and proud in the air and, in some cases, use it for more than just Tiny Tim covers: they play punk rock, distorted art rock, dirty, innuendo-filled pervert rock. I was floored, because essentially the documentary presented itself to me at just the right time for when my mind was actually able to focus on something like “rock” and “ukulele” in the same sentence. But enough back story, we should talk about the movie now, right?
“Rock the Uke,” as I mentioned above, is a documentary about self-professed losers that have taken to utilizing the bastard, freak son of the musical world for their primary means of musical expression. Some keep it classical, playing the stuff we come to think of when we, if we, think about ukuleles at all. Others mic the thing and run it through a ridiculous amount of effects pedals to make the kind of wall of sound music that Phil Spector would shoot you over. Others keep it simple with the uke, but bring some lyrical power that is both disturbing and catchy, and still others just seem to find the general aesthetic of it all very pleasing.
I wouldn’t classify this documentary as remotely objective; this is pro-uke propaganda at its finest, and you’re either going to dig what you’re hearing or you’re going to tune out. On that token, however, at a slim 62 minutes, the documentary finds itself proportional in length as the uke is in size, and therefore easy to handle regardless of how you feel about uke-rock. You do learn a bit about the history of the uke, but that’s more to make a case for how punk rock the thing is as opposed to actually educating you (again, this is pro-uke, sexy that Konablaster up, Flea-f****r). The documentary also does a good job in allowing us to get to know the many “unique” personalities, which is the real find on this DVD: the artists themselves.
And if you do dig the music, and want to hear more of it, or see more of the performers in the film, then the DVD is more than ready, boasting over 80 minutes of additional performance footage (what does it mean when the extra performance footage is longer than the doc itself).
This is light-hearted fare across the board. If there was a category for documentaries that are just fun, enjoyable watches (bubble gum docs?), then “Rock That Uke” is right there, and thank God for that. As much as I appreciate an amazing, deeply resonant political or sociological documentary, I see far too many that leave me convinced that the world is going to melt, get nuked or we’re all going to genocide each other into oblivion. It’s nice to watch a documentary that doesn’t have me placing a shotgun to my head because I’m afraid there’s no better options. Now I might just pick up my girlfriend’s ukulele instead.
All told, this is another world that’s being presented to us, and it isn’t one many are familiar with (I mean, I worked on a film with Ian Whitcomb, went to one of his shows and even I forgot that the man was a ukulele god until he showed up in the doc). As such, it will broaden your musical horizons, whether you like the new view or not, and that’s something to appreciate as well.