Documentary Review — “Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music”

“Mixtape” is a word loaded with meaning to generations, a form of musical shorthand with one person curating a collection of songs to express their feelings for someone else, to make a statement about who they are through their musical tastes, or just provide appropriate jams to accompany a road trip.

So titling your documentary “Mixtape Trilogy” builds in certain expectations.

But the film Kathleen Ermitage presents under that label, “Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music” has literally nothing to do with such expectations. It’s a tuneful three musicians/three “fans” film groping around for a theme, with a title that seems an overreach as well.

There’s a somewhat touching opening story of how Indigo Girls fanatic Dylan Yellowlees — who has attended over 350 of their shows over the decades — found comfort, identity and her “tribe” when she caught their first hit, “Closer to Fine” on the radio.

Neither the “Girls” — Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — nor Yellowlees had come out in the late ’80s when they first hit and Yellowlees discovered her favorite band. But a life-bond was made, and they’ve actually gotten to know each other over the years. Remembering how closeted most of gay America was at that time, Yellowlees paints an interesting picture of that first Indigo Girls concert, where “I wasn’t the only lesbian” in the room, for the first time in perhaps her life.

Garnette Cardogan is a Charlottesville essayist and academic, a native of Jamaica and jazz fan who lived in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina sent him to New York, where he found Indian-American jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, and they bonded over Iyer’s “political” techno-tinged tunes.

And Michael Ford is a Detroit native with a design school background who bills himself as “The Hip Hop Architect,” someone who dissects and deconstructs tunes by the likes of Talib Kweli, and uses that to inspire designs and urban planning and teaches kids to analyze musical messaging and structure via his Hop Hop Architecture Camps.

The three “stories” here don’t really connect. The music is good, but the stories are so different, with each falling on different spots on the “Is there a point to all this?” spectrum that ,the film doesn’t measure up to the tunes.

And damned if I can figure this hip architecture thing that finishes it, other than to guess SOMEbody must be quite good at grant writing to turn a notion that vague and nebulous into a kids’ camp.

Honestly, that goes for the filmmaker as well. Breaking down this “Mixtape” all I can see and hear is three indifferent short films formatted to fit together, but not really making a point.

Rating: unrated

Cast: Amy Ray, Emily Saliers, Dylan Yellowlees, Vijay Iyer, Garnette Cardogan, Michael Ford and Talib Kweli

Credits: Scripted and directed by Kathleen Ermitage. A 1091 release

Running time: 1:34


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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