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Finding Joseph I: The HR From Bad Brains Documentary
I don't know much about music these days, but what I do know is that Bad Brains are among those whose influence and legacy in music has been underrated, damn near criminally. The African American quartet of singer Paul Hudson (known as H.R., for Human Rights), his younger brother, drummer Earl, bassist Darryl Jenifer and guitarist Dr. Know (Gary Miller) started in the late 1970s and handled a variety of styles, but perhaps were known for their punk tastes most. For a group of high-energy performers of punk to be black at that time was fairly unprecedented. But they weren't just a punk group; they also played jazz, some of their music had early roots of hip hop in it, along with influences from reggae, ska and dub. Performances were already talked about for their talent and their visceral passion, and H.R. was charismatic and enigmatic, and we didn't know how much so on the latter then.
Finding Joseph I is the story about H.R.'s psychological issues which damaged him and the band for several years. Directed by James Lathos and executive produced by Jay Mohr (Jerry Maguire), the film interviews Hudson at various points over the last several years along with his bandmates. Some fans of the band and of H.R. such as Vernon Reid and Corey Glover (In Living Colour) and band members from local folks like Fugazi are interviewed, sharing their thoughts about the man and his troubles through the years, along with H.R.'s wife, as they try to figure out if he was schizophrenic, bipolar, what have you (turns out it was a neurological disorder that caused some of his behavior, including frequent and intense headache clusters).
The film goes through many of the mechanisms that films that films like it have gone through before; explaining the reasons why its subject is worthy of the praise heaped upon them; being melancholic at whatever downfall that subject has gone/is going through, and that subject's redemptive third act. And Finding Joseph does a capable job of capturing the essence of H.R. even as he walks the streets and occasionally performs a show, and he talks about some of his health issues. He's always seemed (to me) to be a person who is hard to capture, and Lathos does a fine job of getting his spirit on video, even as he bounces into fictitious personalities during an interview. Seeing this is kind of heartbreaking even if you've heard about it before or during the film.
The cause of H.R.'s health issues is eventually identified and treated and, with the help of insurance and donations he's been dealing with it as best he can: he underwent surgery on his brain earlier this year, after the film was released, and is doing well, to the point of performing an occasional show or two in the D.C. area, including one days before Christmas. Hopefully Hudson's condition continues to improve and we can see another documentary in the future, because while Finding Joseph I is about an appreciation of H.R. and trepidation about this part of his life, hopefully Lathos, Mohr and others will do a separate film about the life and importance of Bad Brains in general, because it is a band that deserves its place in music history alongside the greats that they already are.The Disc:
Finding Joseph I is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with the results being good. The interviews are alive with vivid and accurate colors and flesh tones, images have good detail (a friend of H.R.'s is interviewed with RFK stadium in the background and lots of shots of Baltimore look quite good as well) and the older video and film footage looks as good as could be, inherent flaws aside.The Sound:
A choice of 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby tracks, both of which are good. The music gets a chance to show off how well-rounded it sounds on a six-channel spectrum, and the interviews are clean and consistent. It lacks any decent moments of immersion until the later performances, but this was a generally decent soundtrack.Extras:
At times fun, enjoyable and uncomfortable to watch, the portrait Finding Joseph I is of a talented, caring man whose long process to determine the cause of his erratic behavior takes a toll on himself and those around him. Once the point of identification and treatment happens, that's when those close to H.R. can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Technically the disc is good, though I would have liked to seen a commentary or some sort. Nevertheless, it's a compelling look at one of the more influential (and less heralded) members of music in the last several decades.