Reviews

Negin Farsad

USA, 2008

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 15 May 2008

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

I suppose it says something for the diversity of IFFB’s programming, and the flexibility of the documentary format, that following a screening of At the Death House Door that more or less shook me to my very core, I had scheduled myself for a showing of the lighthearted Nerdcore Rising, which chronicles the first national tour of MC Frontalot (né Damian Hess), a thirtysomething white dude and erstwhile web designer who busts rhymes about Internet porn addiction, complicated role-playing card games, and Star Wars. Needless to say, I was grateful for the short subway ride from Davis to Harvard to clear my head between the two films. The gear-change was indeed dramatic: a laidback piece of filmmaking that’s more about spending some time with a uniquely funny group of musicians than seriously examining an admittedly curious subgenre, Nerdcore Rising made relatively few demands on me.

First-time director Negin Farsad hits the road with Frontalot and his band and sprinkles bits of talking-head interviews with some famous faces throughout, including hip-hop artist Prince Paul and parody king “Weird Al” Yankovic. She also occasionally lets the film lapse into a flurry of animation and computer graphics, a bit of postproduction overdrive that didn’t always click for me, though I can see where something like that would fit into a film about geeks of various stripes representin.’

Farsad often captures funny moments and occasionally some poignant ones (comedian Brian Posehn is one of many interviewees to recall being bullied as a misfit kid), but she misses some opportunities as well. Other nerdcore artists appear along with Frontalot, and there is discussion of the obvious differences and ironic similarities between nerdcore and, say, gangsta rap, as well as the potentially problematic issue of a white musician co-opting a traditionally black musical style and giving it a comic twist, but these are brief interludes in a fairly short feature, and there are stones that go noticeably unturned.

The film fails to fully articulate, for example, a key obstacle that stands between nerdcore hip-hop and mainstream acceptance. That is, that the images of sex, violence, and hypermasculinity commonly linked to the hip-hop that makes it onto to MTV are more immediately saleable to a wide audience than images of guys with pocket protectors, who probably got beat up in high school, who can sort out your computer problems in their sleep. It’s easier to fantasize about being a tough guy than it is to cop to being a geek (think of buttoned-up David Herman lip-synching to gangsta rap in his car in Office Space), but the gulf between who an audience is, and who they will readily identify with, remains an issue that is brushed up against rather than opened up. And while a few interview subjects suggest that nerdcore might break through via a novelty hit, the fact that Yankovic already had one with his Eminem parody “White and Nerdy” remains conspicuously unmentioned, its impact unexamined. The film could have been richer if it dug a little deeper, and it needn’t have lost its sense of humor in the process.

But I may be coming across more harshly than I intend to here. Nerdcore Rising lives up to its modest ambitions, and it makes for an amiable enough eighty or so minutes. Frontalot and company are fun to watch onstage and off, and the film is definitely enriched by the numerous interactions with the group’s square peg fans. The appeal of nerdcore indeed lies in embracing who you are, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the positive energy. Case in point: MC Frontalot’s climactic performance in front of an enormous crowd at the gamer convention Penny Arcade Expo (which the band members hilariously compare to attempting to make love to a whale). Seeing these guys filling a theater with screaming fans after playing to small crowds in bars is among the film’s greatest rewards. They’ve found their niche, and it’s hard not to share their sense of triumph. Especially if you’re a big nerd.

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