Documentary Review: Bobbito Garcia finds fame via “Rock Rubber 45s”

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It’s got to be exhausting being Bobbito Garcia, the self-styled “cultural orchestrator” at the nexus of New York’s sneaker, hoops and hip hop culture. He’s probably hard on friends, too. He must wear them out, after a while.

Hell, I’m going to need a nap after sampling the sizzle reel of his life, “Rock Rubber 45s,” an autobiographical documentary in which he tells his story, and rounds up legions of folk famous and less famous to sing his praises. It’s a whirlwind tour of a life lived on the cusp of his corner of the subculture, brisk and information over-loading and entirely self-serving.

Garcia, 50, gained some measure of success in more fields than most of us can imagine, influenced many, met many more, basically anyone  who was anyone in those various fields in and around New York in the ’80s, 90s and early 2000s.

Relentlessly upbeat, a cheerleader, hustler, coach and “influencer” across multiple generations and multiple media platforms, and a shameless self-promoter all along the way, it’s only natural that when he wanted to start telling his version of the history of his era, he’d add documentary filmmaker to his resume. It’s an impulse he probably should have fought.

“Bobbito’s Basics to Boogie,” “Doin’ it in the Park: Pick up Basketball, NYC” and “Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives” were earlier chapters in a life that took him from Puerto Rico to New York, Wesleyan College to gigs with Def Jam, ESPN, Vibe Magazine and an on and on.

“Rock Rubber 45s” sort of wraps it all up into a somewhat more confessional essay in self-promotion.

Street ball in its pre-ESPN heyday? He was there, never quite fitting in with a college team, but able to play pro ball in his native Puerto Rico.

The birth of hip hop? He was a fan long before he got a job at Def Jam Records, starting as a messenger, working his way up to A & R guy, working radio stations, charming artists. He ventured into doing a New York college radio program, breaking scores of acts on the airwaves, took on columnist duties with Vibe Magazine, sitting down for listening session interviews with everyone from Chaka Khan to Michael Jordan. He’s still a club DJ of some note.

And after dabbling in self-designed sneakers, he became a consultant with Nike, hosted an ESPN series “It’s the Shoes,” was featured in a legendary showboating street ball Nike commercial,  ran a few NYC sneaker boutiques, “Foot Work,” and literally wrote the book on New York giving birth to sneaker-mania, “Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987.”

You’ve got to love his motivational speech ethos. “Work incredibly hard, find what’s missing, fill the void.”

You cover all that ground, you make friends, and everyone from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Rosie Perez to Questlove, Chuck D, Chris Paul and actor/hop fan and filmmaker Michael Rappaport pitched in on his film, which is built on home movies, TV appearances,  athletic department tape, still photos, report cards and fan letters.

 

But there’s a telling moment early in film when Rappaport, who has made docs for ESPN, wishes aloud he’d gotten to make this movie. And it isn’t long before you start to agree with him.

It’s not that Garcia’s manic blur of visuals, testimonials and scrapbook items isn’t well shot, cut and somewhat entertaining. It’s the lack of that outside authority, that other voice to challenge his “version” of this Bobbito-centered history, that is sorely missed.

Aside from an older brother who pooh-poohs this bit of family lore or that one (Garcia’s father was a drunk, he was abused, etc.), where is that one person who will say, “You know, maybe you didn’t make the basketball team because you weren’t a good enough team player,” or “No, Foot Work wasn’t ‘ahead of its time’ as a sneaker boutique. Foot Locker beat it to the marketplace by 20 years,” or “The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was around for decades before you got involved in slam poetry promoting in the Big City.”

We live in the age of the self-made “star,” people who rewrite their own histories to create drama, wealth and fame — or seize the White House. So Garcia’s just doing what New Yorkers who succeed do — blowing his own horn, gilding the lily, etc.

Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, who famously said “No credit you have to give yourself is worth having” would have starved to death under today’s rules.

Maybe it doesn’t matter that only a few will take issue with Garcia cherry-picking his interviews, calling in favors, telling his story his way, protecting his “brand.” In Instagram Nation, that works. Conversely, the glib put-down when you criticize such immodest blowhards,  “just a hater,” is laughable.

Google him. Most of the first page of Garcia’s search results are self-promoting, self-produced websites, accounts, etc. Read the IMDB descriptions of his movies. Self-penned, too, I dare say.

But if you want your place in history chiseled in stone, you can’t expect to be taken seriously if you buy the rock, carve the rock and peddle that rock wherever chiseled stones are sold. We can’t just take your word for it, whatever your impressive run of credits and however deep the Rolodex.

There are scores of documentaries about “big deal folks you’ve never heard of” (And outside of New York, how many have heard of Bobbito?). The memorable ones — “Supermensch,” “Tom Dowd and the Language of Music,” and “Who The F**k Is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey Of Michael Alago,” may have had the eager participation or even their genesis in their egocentric subjects. None of them dared go full onanism by directing themselves.

You need somebody else to say, “Yeah, he was a big deal and his story is worth the time and effort it would take me (not Garcia) to tell it.” Otherwise, it’s just “Says you.”

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, lots of profanity

Cast: Bobbito Garcia, Questlove, Rosie Perez, Patti LaBelle, Chris Paul, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael Rappaport

Credits: Written and directed by Bobbito Garcia. A Saboteur release.

Running time:1:34

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