Milford Graves Full Mantis
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Director: Jake Meginsky
Presented by: Jake Meginsky
Starring: Milford Graves
2018, USA, 91 MIN, DCP
Cast in a form as rebelliously free-flowing as it’s subject’s music, Milford Graves Full Mantis is an inspiring journey through the life and mind of an experimental jazz pioneer with a truly singular persona. In it, the legendary Queens-based percussionist recalls family stories, shows us around his bountiful garden, and frames revelatory footage of past performances with vigorous discussions of polyrhythms and bioacoustics. For dedicated Graves fans and the uninitiated alike, Full Mantis is an utterly fascinating and mold-breaking musical biography.
It begins with a long zooming take that scans the interior of the drummer’s eclectic home, accompanied by music that slowly builds to a simmer, before suddenly erupting into one of the high-energy sequences of archival footage that will become the kaleidoscopic doc’s binding substance. When the film settles back down, we find Graves’ in his garden. He talks of growing up in South Jamaica, philosophizes on the cosmic harmonies of the senses, and introduces us to a mix of martial arts and African dance he calls “Yara.” Later, he descends into his basement laboratory to introduce us to his latest artistic efforts: recording the rhythms of the human body and manipulating them sonically as well as sculpturally. His energy is captivating and his jargon both puzzling and deeply incisive.
Graves’ long-time student/friend Jake Maginsky directs, along with collaborator Neil Young, an intense debut feature that reinvigorates the musical documentary genre. Docs as special as Jem Cohen’s landmark Instrument sit adjacent, but a more apt comparison might be to the unrelenting energy of free‑jazz‑infused narratives like Black Sun or Go, Go Second Time Virgin. (Mitchell Goodrich)
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