Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorano’s Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a documentary that should exist in the world, one that covers an interesting, overlooked topic. Nevertheless, it still carries the great burden of almost all documentaries, being mostly of interest to people who already take a shine to its subject matter while being the most static and least cinematic of film styles.
And Rumble definitely suffers from the restraints of its documentary form. Despite attempts at being something more, with animated bits and some genuinely striking images scattered here and there, the film is still a lot of talking heads. Sure, they’re a lot of impressive talking heads, from Martin Scorsese to Iggy Pop, but it’s still little more than a means of passing information along in the least interesting way possible.
It’s a pity, too, since the film’s purpose — to illustrate the Native American influence on perhaps America’s greatest (and most interesting) creation: rock music — is something that in itself is fascinating. Perhaps my problem is that I’ve seen enough music documentaries to understand the format and the way experts speak enthusiastically and a bit hyperbolically about their topic, while also understanding that, in the case of Rumble, the information is fresh enough that it shouldn’t need this kind of coaxing from its interviewees.
But I think this is also a matter of taste on my part, not being particularly fond of the way Rumble lays out its information. It’s far too episodic, going from the story of Link Wray to the story of Buffy Sainte-Marie to the story of Robbie Robertson. Rumble‘s frustrating in this sense since the movie’s done its research; it’s just chopped it all up in a way that feels as if it should belong in a different format, like a mini-series, perhaps, but not a feature film.
I’m probably at this point being much harsher toward the movie than it deserves. Mainly, I’m happy Rumble exists and is tackling the subject — one I had no idea about — because it’s a very American story, one that can be traced back hundreds and hundreds of years. However, the inherent flaws of the documentary format and the way that it disseminates its information will keep Rumble from being seen by a wider audience. So while the fact that Rumble and all of its research needs to exist, don’t expect much from it in the way of filmmaking. Not Rated. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.