Despite insisting that he is simply a recording artist, Jay Z has gained attention outside of his music career through his public and political involvement. Heavily tuned into the issues that America faces daily, he became the spearhead for the Made in America concert as a means of “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” Calling upon some of the leading names in the American music industry including Pearl Jam, Run DMC and Janelle Monae, this was to be an evening to unite and inspire.
Howard jumped on the bandwagon to document this massive project, interviewing everyone from Jay Z and his fellow acts to the concert crew and street vendors. Whereas those interviewed have many a ranging anecdote or story of how they got here, all are aware of their sense of duty, as performers, as providers and in most instances, as Americans. The sort of patriotism only found in the US runs throughout the film but thankfully doesn’t overwhelm it.
Aside from this, there is little in terms of a message or subject. Howard interviews performers in and around the venue, asking about their upbringing and their music. Such is the variation of musicians this makes for a scattered theme, as Howard moves from Jay Z’s poignant views on his country to Tyler, The Creator running riot backstage. Where those on stage are proud of performing and grateful to the project, roadies and food vendors see it as a necessary way of paying their bills.
Covering everything from national identity to political motivations, repressed sexuality and the creative process, it perhaps would have been more effective to interview with a clear message in mind. Fleshing out the rest of the documentary are the performances themselves, which are shot with throbbing clarity and perfectly incorporates the live atmosphere and the impact that the musicians have on their audiences. As with the interviews the performances are varied, with the bill celebrating long-standing musicians such as a reunited Run DMC and Pearl Jam while accepting a bright if intense future of American music, hailing the likes of Skrillex and Odd Future as a radical new generation of performing.
With Summer in sight this an effective film; Howard has captured the electricity of an outdoor concert well with clips of devoted fans mashed in with those on stage, and Jay Z’s headlining slot is as hypnotic as it is headstrong. To attempt to decipher an underlying message for Made in America would lead to a muddled web of patriotism and daily struggles. As an account of a large scale concert and the effects it has on its followers, however, this is a smart and thoughtful documentary for any number of music fans.
MADE IN AMERICA is available on VoD and DVD 19 May.