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HIQI Film Series shows wide spectrum of music documentaries

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Hitting 20 cities and at least half as many musical subcultures, the touring HIQI Film Series settles in Atlanta for two weeks, offering seven full-length features and a dozen short films and videos of scenes ranging from 1976 to 2001.

Music documentaries are one of the hardest subjects to tackle, because a balance must be struck between capturing the present and pursuing the past. What sets an award-winning documentary such as the awaiting release turntablist-focused Scratch apart from most of what HIQI offers is a narrative vision, but that doesn't mean the series lacks some captivating visuals. Here are opinions on a handful of the subjects surveyed:

SYNERGY: Visions of Vibe -- If you've seen any of last year's failed attempts at portraying the electronic music/party culture, you've seen SYNERGY, a collection of far from enlightening "insights" into the Southern California rave scene. The difference between SYNERGY and, say, Better Living Through Chemistry? A slightly different set of DJs and producers (including Carl Cox, Jason Bentley and Sandra Collins) waxing far too poetically on trance anthems and a different set of dopey kids (and I mean that two ways), providing wiggly interludes. Raver girls in tight tops and candy necklaces, however, always make applying far too much insufferable meaning to thumping beats that much more palatable.

The Blank Generation -- On the opposite end of the spectrum, literally and figuratively, from SYNERGY is the 1976 black-and-white cinema verite The Blank Generation, which features several pre-major label status New York punk and new wave icons, as well as some unknowns. The raw, gritty footage of performances of acts such as Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie and Richard Hell (who coined the phrase "Blank Generation") contains no Deep Thoughts. Nothing is idealized, but that doesn't make Blank Generation any more accessible to the general audience. However, Debbie Harry circa 1976 looks better than all the candy ravers in the world.

Word -- Shot around 1996-1997, Word focuses on the underground New York hip-hop scene, featuring live performances by some since-successful acts like the recently disbanded Company Flow, the Arsonists, Dead Prez, MOP and even briefly a visiting Eminem, alongside countless natives at clubs like Wetlands, Tramps, SOB's and the Lyricist Lounge.

Word shows true playas stepping up to the mic to get their shine on, and improves upon SYNERGY and Blank Generation by exploring some roots by talking to originators like Melle Mel and the Last Poets, but falls into the same trap of letting the music and musicians speak for themselves. And there are only so many times you can hear people talk about keeping it real before they get real boring.

Friends Forever -- Drummer vocalist Nate and bassist/keyboardist Josh are abrasive noise-rockers Friends Forever, and they also are the strangest pair of hetero life partners since Jay and Silent Bob, except neither is silent, and they aren't shown doing drugs. But you have to do drugs to decide you need to drive across country and up the West Coast performing from a smoke-filled, wildly flashing van in parking lots and at curbsides. The pair are confrontational performance artists masquerading as slackers. While they may appear buffoonish, they begin to be slowly revealed as more emotionally complex as their pasts and personalities are subtly probed on scattered digital video.

Driver 23 -- If you want to see heavy metal devotion without ridiculous coffeehouse overtones and Hollywood endings, skip Marky Mark's rocky Rock Star and peep Driver 23, the story of Dan Cleveland, a Minneapolis delivery man by day, "progressive" metal god by night. Weeks of playing bars with similar metal throw-back bands like "Baddatude" and attempting to build his own basement studio and record his magnum opus stretch out as Dan lives the life of his band name: Dark Horse, convinced he is meant to succeed, even though he can't keep a band together, can play guitar semi-well but can't sing worth shit.

Rockers -- Smack dab in the middle of some modern messes is a late '70s classic, Rockers, the only film of the group with a discernable narrative. Rockers tells the story of Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace's attempt to succeed in the Jamaican scene. Thankfully, subtitles are provided, because the only easily understood parts of the film are tight performances by reggae greats including Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and others.

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