Rewind to 2012 when Jay Z and business associate Steve Stoute launched the Made in America Music Festival.
Devised to not be a one dimensional celebration of music, rather the guiding light for its evolution from its inception was to merge music and culture by creating a collision between music from across the musical spectrum.
If art is capable of transcending boundaries or lines of distinction, then within the seed of the idea from which Made in America was born is a genuine artistic endeavour that is rich in integrity.
One of America’s leading filmmakers Ron Howard along with producer Brian Grazer were on hand to document last year’s festival. It represented an opportunity to capture onscreen the fabric of the festival, to delve into the motivations behind its inception, and through the voyeuristic and explorative gaze of the camera that captures the merging of musical genres to also create a moment where film and music are merged into one.
Film and music are of course creative strands that are naturally interwoven, and resemble a natural formation. Made in America is not the first time that cinema has actively merged the two through documentary, featuring shades of perhaps most famously Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, which documented the final performance of The Band. Perhaps one might even perceive within the name Made in America, and especially in the shadow of its founder who is a beneficiary of the American Dream political shades that may just call to mind Jean-Luc Godard’s equal rights film set to music by The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.
Like the aforementioned titans of cinema whose shadows loom over cinema, and who both have exhibited an interest in exploring the everyday from Godard’s confrontation of the subject of prostitution in Vivre Sa Vie to Scorsese’s depiction of organised crime. A filmmaker who has a penchant for confronting real life stories, whether it be the stories of individuals, sporting rivalries or space missions, Made in America is a fitting film for Howard to add to finally add to his body of work.
The late addition of the documentary compared to his American and French counterparts into documentary filmmaking positions Made in America in such a way that it parallels his own rise from the typical American teenager in TV comedy-drama Happy Days to the inquisitive filmmaker. With that in mind it is only fitting that he documentary would grace the Ron Howard canon with its presence.
Whilst the choice of name could be perceived as American self-promotion, and one that could create the misguided impression that it celebrates the national possession of art and creativity over the liberty of art from national possession, such an impression would be far from the truth. Made in America not only brings together musical genres and breaks down boundaries, but through the inclusion of international musical artists internationalises and liberates itself. If Howard did set out to capture what it means be made in America, the festival has opened itself up to serve as a celebration of an art form, as well as a culture’s relationship to music.
One of the film’s glowing successes is that it reaches out to a broad audience by voiding the necessity for any knowledge and familiarity of the music beforehand. Instead Howard guides his documentary to serve as a means of discovery, interweaving the words of the musicians with their music to bring the film to life, while observing how Howard and Jay Z are serving a greater purpose to expand their cultural interconnections.
Art is capable of speaking with a broad voice, in more than the one language as advertised. Made in America’s voice spirals outward like a series of dialects, enabling it to evolve from being a record of the festival to become a celebration of the resilience of people, and how in a time of austerity art and culture can provide vital opportunities to individuals and communities.
It serves as an introduction, a meditation, a celebration, and it brings together the audio and visual art forms to explore the connection between art and culture. Perhaps the most significant achievement of Made in America is its capability to exceed expectation.
Made in America is out now on DVD.
Jay Z’s Made in America film – An Extraordinary Music Festival – article by Paul Risker