DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE (director/writer: Lev Anderson/Chris Metzler; cinematographer: Jeff Springer; editor: Jeff Springer; music: Norwood Fisher/Jimmy Sloan; cast: Laurence Fishburne (Narrator), Angelo Moore (Lead Singer), Norwood Fisher (bassist); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lev Anderson/Chris Metzler; Cinema Guild; 2010)

"A must see for Fishbone fans."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Co-directors and writers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler ("Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea") present this entertaining but flawed conventional documentary, that sympathetically traces the rise (or near rise) to fame of the unique all-black alternative rock band Fishbone. The unique band was formed when they were in school in 1979, and the pic shows clips of the band performing and lets them freely talk shit while it charts their turbulent history from their school-day beginnings in LA to their first record contract after high school with Columbia to their heyday in popularity in the mid-1980s through the early 1990s and to the  present day where the band re-invented itself and has undergone many changes in personnel.

It's narrated by Laurence Fishburne, who can't seem to wait to tell us that after Fishbone's funky much anticipated album, Everyday Sunshine, in 1991, bombed in sales, the group realized they wouldn't be a hit commercial group unless they changed their unstructured ways. But that would mean they really couldn't be the free-wheeling democratic Fishbone that made their music a blast and therefore the group didn't alter their style and decided to live with its artistic integrity. The band kept up its rep as a star attraction by going on road gigs that highlighted their high-powered sound and energetic stage performances. As a result of not changing directions they never cashed in commercially like other groups they were associated with and influenced in LA that had mainstream breakthroughs, like the punk bands Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt. When the group tours today in Europe, it seems grossly unfair they can't even fill a small-sized auditorium like they used to do regularly during their more popular days in the past--which probably speaks volumes to the importance of record sales and promotions by the record companies, and how their music was too far out to be understood by a mainstream audience.

The film is mostly a lot of babble, with a lot of whining by the chatty band members. Interesting though that may be for viewers who like to see rockers unmasked in public, it's still an unstructured messy film--one that lets us see a bunch of creative loose cannon musicians trying to get it together, but who are too fucked-up and are not always on the same page.

It's a must see for Fishbone fans, who should be bowled over the way the unique eclectic band--strangely mixing punk, ska, funk, and whatever-- comes together in a seamless fashion when performing and operates so coolly onstage, but when offstage seem so dysfunctional. Their fans and many rock critics consider them the best live performing group ever, but that is something that might not transfer to their records and signals why their records do not sell even if they are critically acclaimed. For others it's probably a more precarious viewing experience, that might just as easily turn one off as on.

The co-directors point the cameras at the original South Central residing inner-city band members --Norwood Fisher (bassist, vocals), Norwood's drummer brother 'Fish,' Angelo Moore (saxophone, lead singer), Dirty Walt Kibby (vocals, trumpet), Chris Dowd (keyboards, trombone, vocals), and Kendall Jones (guitar) -- and let them tell their own story in their own words. That includes telling of their love of music, refusing to conform to someone else's idea of music, their love of playing such unusual original music for the past 25 years, that their split-ups were over such things as one member becoming mentally unbalanced and another feeling his creative input is not appreciated enough by the group, and that their playing in the white punk rock venues messes with racial stereotyping.

The aging rockers seem genuinely grateful they are still touring all over the world, which is viewed as nothing short of miraculous when they think of all their setbacks from alcohol abuse and battling egos. They say they persevered because of the pride they have as musicians, because they dig being a tremendous influence on other pop groups and that their inner-strength amid all the turmoil, disappointments and feuds kept up their spirits during the bad times.

The film focuses on the crazed lead singer Angelo Moore, also known by his alter ego stage name of  "Dr. Madd Vibe," and his steamy relationship with the steadiest founding member, the bassist Norwood Fisher, who might have clashed with the frontman over personality issues and financial troubles, but still had enough sense to keep the band in business out of love for the special music they created (or maybe they both lacked the courage to make a clean go of it on their own, which might have benefited each more than staying together since their shared vision is so conflicted). This documentary gives us ready access to hearing them say what's on their mind and a good opportunity for those not familiar with the band to see if the Fishbone music resonates with them.

REVIEWED ON 3/9/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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