In her introduction to Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World at the Canada Now film festival, director Catherine Bainbridge was succinct but passionately claimed that ‘music has the ability to touch our spirits’. Rumble fully explores what this spiritual element of music entails. Equal parts funny, touching, and tragic; in just under 2 hours Bainbridge and co. pull the curtain back on an obscured history of indigenous peoples influence on American music.
Rumble opens with an early 20th recreation of a Native American recording – the United States government, believing that the music and culture would not survive, commissioned these recordings. With a sudden lens flare, the seated indigenous American stands and becomes Link Wray strutting across the stage, guitar in hand. We hear the iconic power chord from Ray’s 1958 rock instrumental Rumble: guttural, raw, and iconic. This musical motif could have become an epitaph for Native American music, but the documentary continues to explore the enduring, and often covert, nature of Native music in contemporary American music.
An incredible roster of world-famous musicians is assembled in Rumble to wax poetical and speak lovingly of their memories and inspirations from Native American musicians. They tell touching tales of influence and nostalgia for a time that we, as viewers, have never lived through, but can now experience vicariously. These individuals include, but are not limited to, Steven Tyler, Slash, Dan Auerbach, Iggy Pop, Marky Ramone, George Clinton, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennet, and Martin Scorsese. The film treats each with great respect – those with Native ancestry have their tribe outlined next to their name and profession. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film suffers to a degree with such a vast group of people and the level of detail in portraying history in Rumble, by the end, watching this film has felt like living through one of these epochs of time.
The film seamlessly blends existing footage from concerts, still photographs, and bucolic pans of rural America with its interview footage. It captures and displays brilliant human and spiritual moments. It is perhaps the unscripted sequences which are the most deeply touching – musicians singing along to Charley Patton’s bluegrass to reveal covert indigenous music motifs – Taboo (of The Black Eyed Peas) and Pat Vegas (of Redbone) discussing the importance of, and singing to Redbone’s Come and Get your Love.
Indeed, this level of respect to the indigenous peoples is perhaps Rumble’s greatest merit. Films are often in contention with their medium – voyeuristic issues arise as the individuals onscreen often become dehumanised and made spectacle to the viewer. Rumble never falls in to these trappings – each figure of contemporary musical history that it outlines is treated with a sort of reverence that is often lacking in documentary filmmaking. If the purpose of a documentary is to bring to light truths and elicit societal or personal changes then Rumble succeeds in every element. From the opening guitar of Link Wray, to Jimi Hendrix’s monumental Woodstock performance, to the Black Eyed Peas’ Let’s Get it Started, by the end of the film there was no person left in the cinema who had not been touched in some way by Native American musicians.
See Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World at The Canada Now film festival – going on a nationwide tour starting 1st July.