Film Review: Made In America

A Call To Arms In The Air

In the opening moments of ‘Made In America’ (2014) I thought I was watching the wrong movie. Was I watching Shane Meadows ‘Made In Stone’ which also has an emotive slow motion crowd shot with a voice over? Of course Jay Z doesn’t sound anything like Alfred Hitchcock (the voice in Meadow’s film), Jay Z is much bigger than Hitchcock, and may possibly even end up having more effect on society than Alfred. It certainly seems to be part of Jay’s plan.

I kept contrasting the two films throughout watching Ron Howard’s (Rush) concert documentary of a two day event held in Philadelphia in 2012, the brain child of Jay Z as an inspirational/motivational happening (which must have been inspired by his outstanding headline spot at Glastonbury) to help regenerate a financially floundering city/country. But whereas Ian Brown and The Stone Roses proclaimed they would be the biggest act in the world, it was Jay Z who actually got there. To the greater extent, he is the American dream, And he wants to show you how to do it too.

In collaboration with numerous acts of a very broad spectrum (nicely reminiscent of Glastonbury once again), from Pearl Jam to Run-DMC, Janelle Monae to Skrillex, Jill Scott to Odd Future amongst many others, there seems to be no initial reasoning to the selection, until they get some face time on camera talking about how and why they got to where they are today. Basically they ALL grafted, REALLY bloody hard. And they didn’t wait for something to happen, they made something happen, they hustled, and NEVER gave up no matter what was thrown at them, or taken away.

Jay Z made in america film review

If anything, this is the fundamental core of the documentary. Of course there’s some great performances (Odd Future leaping into the crowd is a joyous moment if not for Jay’s reaction alone), it’s not a political message being rammed down your throat, but the message is very clear, you/we all have the power to make things a hell of a lot better, both for yourself, and society. It’s very clear that America has been completely sold off to corporations to the detriment of everyone, but ordinary folk have the capacity to claim it back.

Personally I’d have preferred if some of Jay’s wisdom/pointers weren’t being said as he’s sitting in the back of his huge limo dripping in very expensive jewellery, but nonetheless, the message is overtly positive. Some of the sweetest moments are when Jay is going back to the places he used to live in. The genuine enthusiasm on his face is wonderfully contagious, as he regresses to the street kid he once was, who years later is now looking over from the roof top of one old address to the club he owns. Genuinely humble, he explains the emergence of his self belief (despite the odds), a belief he knows is in the core of every person, it just needs to be nurtured with encouragement and graft. Adversity is a challenge, that can be conquered, again just look at his Glastonbury performance, which in no uncertain terms has led to Metallica headlining in 2014.

The variety of bands also enables a variety of fans to mix together in a situation that is often quite alien to them, allowing everyone to see their commonality, rather than differences which is the divisive message permeated in mainstream media. All the acts recognise the positivity of the event, it’s a seed. A nice addition is the stories of some ordinary Americans working in various ways in the event, their aspirations, hopes and dreams, which run parallel to the acts who are at a different stage of the same dream.

In the eternal hope, even the actual stage design has what looks like the wings of a Phoenix rising up to take the message further. It’s the sharing of ideas, information, empathy, love and experiences, where we are all potential apprentices to a great new age. What is not to love about that?


‘Made In America’ is out on DVD and VOD Moday 19th May (today)