Thursday, May 19, 2011

Louder Than a Bomb

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Documentary Chronicles Windy City Poetry Slam

Right-wing pundits such as Karl Rove and Sarah Palin recently had a field day trashing Common when the Chicago-born rapper was invited to the White House to participate on poetry night. That elitist reaction raises an interesting question: does the hip-hop style of rhyming and its down-to-earth subject-matter about life in the ‘hood deserve the same respect as the classical couplets of Keats and other lofty lyricists whose work benefits from ivory-towered academia’s stamp of approval?
The answer to that question might lie in simply screening Louder Than a Bomb, a documentary chronicling the Slam Poetry competition of the same name staged annually in the Windy City. The 600+ entrants from 60+ schools are an ethnically-diverse array of high students who share a passion for the spoken word format.
Co-directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel (nephew of the legendary film critic Gene Siskel), the film telescopes narrowly on the fortunes of four teams and their talented standouts. Nate Marshall is from Whitney Young Magnet School, Adam Gottlieb’s from North College Prep, Nova Venerable’s from Oak Park High, and “Steinmenauts” Lamar Jorden, Charles Smith and Kevin Harris represent defending champion Steinmetz High.
To the uninitiated, most of their uniformly-strident, high-energy performances highlighted here might be reminiscent of rappers, only sans music. However, the absence of accompaniment makes it easier for the audience to focus on the rich content of the writers’ evocative verses which tend to reflect issues in their personal lives.
Granted, given how deeply teenagers tend to feel about their troubles, their staccato stanzas are apt to sound like emotional dumps to the average adult, whether they’re weighing-in on absentee parents, drug-addicted parents, or even doting Jewish parents. Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching this flick, my only worry upon completion was whether or not these accomplished slam poets will ever bother to learn to speak grammatically. Sorry, but I couldn’t help but be concerned upon hearing some of the same youngsters saying things like “When we was on the stage…” and “I plan to go to college and be like a professor.” in post-performance interviews.
Louder than a bomb blasting the King’s English to smithereens leaving Ebonics as the last language standing!

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Balcony Releasing

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