“The Stuart Hall Project” is a well-done documentary about Britain’s leading cultural theorist, Stuart Hall. While I liked the film because it presented a person I knew nothing about whose work is extremely interesting, the film felt like the type of film you’d watch in a graduate film class. And that’s fine, if you know what you’re getting into and there’s some context built into the film being presented. But for me coming into the film cold I was forced to take in a ton of information with little time to process it as the film went along. So in short, “The Stuart Hall Project” is a fine film that piqued my interest in Hall, his work and his theories but I had a bit of a hard time keeping up. It’s not you, “The Stuart Hall Project,” it’s me.
Hall’s work looks at how world events cause uprisings and rethinking, both physical and mental, of how culture feels about the world around us. These events often start small but lead to sea changes in the cultural state of mind. Starting in the 1950’s and working through today the film looks at how wars and other big world events cause social change. Be they huge shifts in the culture at large or at least the way people think, the film examines Hall’s work in teasing out these ideas. Race, gender and media are looked at through director Akomfrah’s lens and Hall’s voice and it’s an incredibly interesting way to approach cultural anthropology.
Akomfrah does a nice job weaving in the many years of Hall’s life as a kind of philosophical rock star alongside various Miles Davis songs. Not only is Hall a big Miles Davis fan but the musician’s career also serves as a nice example of how culture changes due to the effects society has on it. Davis starts off playing easy to digest jazz but grew more intricate, exotic and complicated (in a good way) as his career went on due to well, drugs, but also a more in-depth understanding of culture and the times we live in. At least that’s Akomfrah’s theory and I’m assuming Hall’s as well. In any case, it’s an interesting way to move the narrative along and it gave me an interesting perspective on the music of Miles Davis as well as that of many other artists.
I was also very taken in by Hall himself. Beyond articulate, he’s clearly brilliant but never speaks in a way that’s difficult to understand or condescending. He has a wise gentleness to him and it’s incredibly engaging. Not only do we travel through several decades with Hall, focusing mostly on his works, we also see his family and watch them all grow together. It’s clear that Akomfrah holds Hall in high regard as do many in the world, both scholars and armchair philosophers.
“The Stuart Hall Project” is a very good film and it definitely made me want to dig in deeper to Hall’s work. I just wish I had known a bit more about him and his theories before seeing this film, which is more or less Stuart Hall’s Greatest Hits.