The Chosen Ones
Flaxen-haired German filmmaker Wendla Nölle travels to New York to discover its Jewish music community and learn about the roles religion and cultural identity play in the musicians' lives. There she encounters six acts: Y-Love (aka Yitz Jordan), an African-American convert and MC who finds acceptance in a Hasidic neighborhood; Blue Fringe, allegedly "one of the most popular bands of the Jewish music scene worldwide," which plays innocuous lite rock; Jeremiah Lockwood, a talented solo artist who blends haunting blues with an Ashkenazic cantorial singing style and also fronts the band the Sway Machinery; Rav Shmuel, an anti-folk acoustic-guitar-slinging rabbi; and Balkan Beat Box, a N.Y.-based ensemble that combines more musical styles than Baskin-Robbins has flavors.
The results of Nölle's search are admirable, but uneven. As compelling as Y-Love and Rav Shmuel are, as captivating as Lockwood is--one segment features him playing his unique blues in an abandoned synagogue--Chosen barely overcomes the presence of the morbidly bland Blue Fringe. When Nölle interviews its members, she does not include a live or video performance as she does with every other act throughout--until the documentary's very end, and over the credits at that. It's as if she knows how uninteresting it is. The band does provide an interesting awkward moment, though, when one member explains that his family, as a rule, does not buy German cars in remembrance of the Holocaust. In voiceover, Nölle explains that she feels called out and that she "expected to meet visionaries [and] rock stars and not victims."
Chosen Ones lacks the bite and breadth of classic music docs such as Urgh! A Music War or 1991: The Year Punk Broke. And the movie would greatly benefit from titles and subtitles, not only because Nölle's accent is often difficult to comprehend, but also because it's hard to keep track of who's who in a documentary about a group of largely unknown artists. Despite her conclusion that there really isn't a cohesive Jewish music community in New York, Nölle's film is still worth seeing for some of its performances.