It is at times like this that I don't like being a film critic, because I know that no matter how hard I try, whatever I write is going to sound negative. And while I didn't dislike director Tyrone Dixon's 8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha Music--and in fact, I got exactly what it was he was trying to do--the film repeatedly came up short in too many areas for me to see this cinematic cup as being anything other than half empty, even though I wanted to see it as half full.
8 Wheels is an examination of roller skating culture in the African-American community, and that idea is great. No, I take that back. That idea is brilliant. Even though I went to skate jams when I was kid, flailing around and falling on my ass while the dj spun late seventies and early eighties funk, soul and hip-hop, and as I marveled at all the other black kids that could do what I could not (which was skate well), I've never given much though to what roller skating meant to my community. Clearly, Dixon did give it some thought, and he set out to create a documentary that traces the history and continued impact of skating in the black community. But the problem with 8 Wheels is not what Dixon set out to do, so much as it is how he did it. There is a loose structure to 8 Wheels that makes it difficult to capture the audience. The documentary jumps from person to person, city to city, and topic to topic, without structuring itself as a cohesive singular work. Dixon covers some truly interesting topics and profiles equally interesting people, but no idea feels completely thought out, and no topic feels fully explored. The result is a documentary of people and places, most of which don't stick with you five minutes after the movie is over.
Watching 8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha Music, I wanted nothing more than to give into the film, and sit back and enjoy myself, but it just didn't happen. Clocking in at just over an hour, the documentary has a ton of impressive footage of people skating, and a soundtrack that includes something of a "best of" collection of funk and soul featuring over thirty great cuts. But for some reason the film, at barely over an hour, still feels too long. There comes a point when I started thinking, "Okay, I like the music and the skating, but if we're going to bring up racism or the need to for more black owned skating rinks, then let's be serious about it." And that seems to be the main problem with the film, it casts its glance in many directions, but never really focuses on any one thing (or at least it doesn't focus long enough to really resonate).
8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha Music is not a bad film, but it is not a great or memorable film either. A great documentary leaves you with the feeling that you've spent time in a different place, with new people, and been exposed to new ideas. And the better the documentary, the greater the feeling of having learned and experienced something you didn't know. And while 8 Wheels tries to do this, it never completely succeeds, and the result is something of an incomplete feeling. It's like going to a party where you don't know anyone, and you don't bother to talk to anyone, and leave saying, "Well, the music was good."