Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Maestro

Maestro is a roughly 80 minute documentary about the underground dance scene in lower Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s.  The film focuses primarily on Larry Levan and The Paradise maestroGarage but also devotes attention to Francis Grasso and the Sanctuary, David Mancuso and the Loft and Nicky Siano and the Gallery.  Grasso and Mancuso are briefly interviewed with Siano getting much more interview time.  Other people interviewed include deejays Frankie Knuckles, Little Louis Vega, John “Jellybean” Benitez, and Francois Kevorkian, sound system designers Alex Rosner and Richard Long, and mixer and remixer Tom Moulton among many others ranging from the famous to the everyday people who frequented the clubs.

The film focuses primarily on the key deejays and clubs and is mainly concerned with the atmosphere of freedom, love and acceptance that characterized the early days of underground dance culture.  Other aspects of dance culture such as the quality of the soundsystems in the Loft and the Paradise Garage and the importance of the 12 inch single to the deejay’s art are discussed but they are not the focus.  The person-driven approach may be helpful in holding the interest of a viewer who is not familiar with the early underground dance scene.  There is a good deal of footage of street interviews with people who are remembering what the scene was like and these are often more eloquent than the interviews with more famous people in bringing home the message that these, largely gay, underground dance venues provided an oasis and home for a group of people who were accepted in few, if any, other places.  One might even consider that it is a triumph of the human spirit that when given free reign to be themselves this group of social outcasts, mostly black and Latino gay men at a time when homosexuality was tolerated to a much lesser degree than it is today, created a culture that was remarkable for its inclusiveness, tolerance, freedom and acceptance of blacks, whites, Latinos, straights, gays, women,  and men.  It’s not easy to open your hearts and minds when you’ve been shit on for most of your life.

Video quality, especially of club footage taken in the Garage in its final year, 1987, is often grainy and crude.  Music is virtually omnipresent and is presented in segments rather than full tracks.  There is a stereo mix (which I didn’t listen to) and two 5.1 surround mixes, a dolby mix and a HouseHeadz mix (whatever that is).  After only a brief 10 minute comparison it seemed that the HouseHeadz mix was cleaner and more sharply delineated which made the interviews easier to hear but the regular dolby mix had more bass and power.  “Maestro” comes with a second DVD that includes extras that I was unable to watch as I only got DVD 1 from Netflix.

House and garage music mutated into forms that differ markedly in sound, deejaying style and contribution, and, importantly, culture from the underground club scene that birthed them and for this reason viewers who are coming from a ’90s or ’00s house, garage, rave background and are expecting a film about the music they are familiar with may find “Maestro” disappointing.  This isn’t a documentary about music per se, but about the culture that gave rise to the music.  For viewers who recognize many of the names listed in the first paragraph of this review and who like the music, “Maestro” is a must see.  It’s a rare treat to see Mancuso, Siano, Moulton, Grasso and Knuckles and while Mancuso and Grasso in particular don’t seem to be what they used to be (based solely on this film), it is still interesting and instructive to hear what all of these guys have to say.  Of all the podcasts we have done thus far The Paradise Garage (Part 2) Larry Levan has proven to be the most popular and listeners who enjoyed that show or who have read and enjoyed Tim Lawrence’s “Love Saves the Day” should definately check “Maestro” out.

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08/22/2007 - Posted by | DVD reviews, music

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