Breaking a Monster

July 26, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

At one point during this film, executive producer Alan Sacks tells a father that his son is in danger of becoming another “Bieber,” invoking a sort of archtypal celebrity bogeyman as a means of trying to scare compliance. It is a fascinating moment in this behind-the-scenes glance at what it takes to make a rock star. This documentary follows three 12 year old African American boys as they try to make it big with their heavy metal band, Unlocking the Truth. The boys (Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins & Alec Atkins) were discovered by Sacks after Brickhouse’s mother posted YouTube videos of them performing in Times Square. Sacks, who co-created the TV Show “Welcome Back, Kotter” and who broke The Jonas Brothers, knows a good gimmick when he sees one and cute, prepubescent, headbanging Black boys is definitely a good gimmick. However, these boys are more than just that. They are also talented musicians and writers; their song “Monster” (which is the one most heard during the documentary) certainly sounds lyrically and musically like it belongs on the radio. That these songs are written and performed by kids is impressive. In fact, these boys are impressive, period. At many points during the film, they share thoughts and feelings that reveal each of them to be remarkably self-aware, insightful and world-wary. In one compelling scene, Brickhouse confronts Sacks with an online post claiming that the boys were only made famous because African American rockers are a gimmick. Sacks awkwardly tries to reassure him but Brickhouse knows better. But, herein lies the dilemma, because Brickhouse (so wise here and other places) is also the boy whose tantrum causes the Bieber comment. In the end, these are just kids. They do want to be huge celebrities but, when they are not on stage, they want to be skateboarding and playing Grand Theft Auto, not dealing with contracts and negotiations and they tend to handle those moments extremely poorly. I had sympathy for everyone in this film, including Sacks, who clearly believes in the boys but feels like he is banging his head against a wall trying to drag them toward success, almost despite themselves. This really is a story about all the work behind the glamour of being a star. Is it a reasonable thing to expect a 12 year old to not be a 12 year old? Because, in order to really succeed, it would appear that a child has to give up their childhood. And we wonder what happened to Bieber.

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