Review: ‘Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker’

Why is rock music -- descended from African-American blues and R&B -- an almost exclusively white terrain today shunned by hip-hop-focused black audiences? These and related issues are explored to intriguing if only partly satisfying ends in Raymond Gayle's documentary "Electric Purgatory."

Why is rock music — descended from African-American blues and R&B — an almost exclusively white terrain today shunned by hip-hop-focused black audiences? These and related issues are explored to intriguing if only partly satisfying ends in Raymond Gayle’s documentary “Electric Purgatory.” Routinely assembled, episodic mix of talking-head interviews and concert clips surrenders too much screentime to interviewees whining about the presumably race-biased corporate music biz. Still, the subject’s fascination for music buffs makes it viable for DVD release and possible broadcast sales.

After recapping blues progenitors and successful early black rock ‘n’ rollers (including performance footage of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix), pic notes a widening gap between black rockers and commercial success. Acts like Sly Stone and Prince mixed disco, funk and soul with rock, but they were exceptions amid growing divisions between genres. Musicians from Living Colour, Fishbone, the Roots and other bands spend much time here blaming the Man at major labels — though some complaints are legitimate enough — and not enough pondering why black listeners don’t support black rockers as they do indie rappers likewise ignored by the moneymen. Tech package is basic.

Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker

Production

A Payback production. Produced by Marc Newsome. Executive producer, Raymond Gayle. Directed, edited by Raymond Gayle.

Crew

Camera (color, DVcam), Mel House. Reviewed at San Francisco Black Film Festival, June 10, 2006. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Fishbone, God Forbid, Doug Pinnick, Cody ChesnuTT, 24-7 Spyz, Burnt Sugar, Vernon Reid, Adam Falcon, Jimi Hazel, Sara Hill, Greg Tate.
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