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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Genghis Blues
Genghis Blues
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 20, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

"Genghis Blues" is an absolutely fascinating documentary about Paul Pena, a San Fransisco man who is extremely talented at the anicent Tuvian art of throat singing, which allows people to voice more than one note at the same time. Pena is blind, and has previously been the backup singer for such blues musicians as B.B. King. The documentary starts off by introducing us to the singer and how he became involved in learning about the music - he translated the Tuvan language in braille. On it's own, this could make for an interesting documentary, but director Roko Belic takes us much further than that.

In fact, he takes us nearly across the world. Pena decides to make the great journey from his home in San Fransisco to the small country of Tuva to compete in the throat singing contest. Pena is certainly an interesting character, suffering from depression, but also finds happiness in music. When he finally gets to Tuva and is greeted by the local people (who seem extremely friendly and pleased to see him), he seems entirely thrilled to be there, changed and energized. There are also some dramatic moments such as when Pena runs out of his medicine.

Certainly, this is one of those movies that people might dislike without seeing it - it certainly may not sound like the most exciting subject for a feature. But, it works. Pena is fascinating to watch as he learns this music on his own, and especially as we follow him into a foreign country. The film is certainly low-budget, but I think this is a story interesting enough to surpass any filmmaking flaws that are apparent in the movie.


The DVD

VIDEO: The film is presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and unfortunately, it is not anamorphic. The video quality varies slightly throughout the movie, but for the most part, it looks noticably soft and lacking fine detail. Certainly the film's low budget origin can be taken into account, though.

Softness aside, I was pleased at how the picture looked otherwise. I saw little evidence of print flaws except for a few very minor speckles. Pixelation and shimmer are also not apparent. The picture looks slightly grainy on a few occasions, but this is also pretty minor. Colors are generally natural, with some instances where the movie offers more vibrant colors.

SOUND: The low budget nature of the movie becomes a little more apparent with the audio quality of the movie. "Genghis Blues" is presented in stereo sound and the audio seems to slightly vary throughout. All of it is generally either interviews or music, and although some interviews are clear, some sound weakly recorded, so I had a bit of trouble hearing what some of the people were saying.

MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, but the sounds of throat singing are in the background.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary track by the friends and filmmakers who were involved in "Genghis Blues". It's a very fun and informal track that provides a lot of information about what the filmmakers went through to capture this journey. They point out a lot of information that isn't otherwise apparent, or some ways that they were able to capture scenes on a very low budget. It's a very entertaining track and worth a listen.

Also: A very interesting 18 minute interview with the filmmakers who talk about their early work learning to direct, as well as the experiences they had trying to get funding for a documentary - which, for a story like this, was a particularly hard task. Text notes are also included about Pena and Tuva - a further section includes 5 songs in concert by Pena.

Final Thoughts: It's a little hard to highly recommend "Genghis Blues" - it's certainly a very good movie but it's not going to be for everyone. If the subject sounds interesting, you might want to check it out first as a rental.

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