DVD review: The Molly Dineen Collection v.4: Being Blacker/Sound Business (BFI)

This latest collection of work by documentarian Molly Dineen comes to BFI DVD on 8 August, comprising her most recent film, Being Blacker (2018) and a student film, Sound Business (1981), with a range of extras and an informative booklet placing the material in context.

The films

Being Blacker

I previously watched and reviewed Being Blacker when it was broadcast on BBC2 after a short cinema tour in 2018. These were my thoughts at the time:

“Canadian-born documentarist Molly Dineen returns for the first time in eleven years, to document the funeral of Blacker Dread’s mother, in a carnival atmosphere.

Dread was the owner of one of the best-known independent record shops in Brixton until financial irregularities forced its closure and his imprisonment.

Dineen’s film was three years in the making, documenting the Jamaican population of London, their memories, their problems, their hopes.

Dread shows old family photos and reflects on his murdered son, just one casualty of London’s gang violence, and on the establishment that dismisses him as a “failure” despite his work with his own community, helping young men move away from the temptation of drugs and violence.

This is a man who wrote to Nelson Mandela and invited him to Brixton – he accepted. A man who had to retake his 11-plus exam because there was doubt that a Jamaican could have the intellect without cheating.

A man who does not resent the lack of energy the police put into solving his son’s murder. A man whose quiet love for his mother is set against a white horse parade led by a former getaway driver. A man whose decades-long growth of dreadlocks are an extension of himself, personal and private.

An eye-opener on a culture which has been under-represented, or misinterpreted, in the media.

The black community is much more than the Notting Hill Carnival, although it is telling that the gentrification of Brixton is described by Dread as “Rixton – the B is for all the black people who have moved out”. This film is about the death of a community just as much as the vibrancy of a living one.

It is clear that the long acquaintanceship between Dread and Dineen has given rise to a certain amount of trust between them which allows her to get close to a world in which she would usually have no part.”

Sound Business

Presented with restoration which removes the dropout on previously shared versions,, this fifty-six minute film follows two British sound systems. The Sir Coxtone and Young Lion systems were both instrumental to the development of Black British mudic of the period.

Blacker Dread appears here in a nice link back and forward to the main feature, alongside other key figures from the scene (thanks are listed in the credits for Sugar Minott, David Rodigan, Trinity as well as both crews).

The soundsystem culture brought in reggae, ska and “a fanatical love of the music”. What Dineen does is to get up the heart of the passion of these young men and their artistry, letting them talk without imposing her presence on proceedings.

Dubbing, dj-ing, and dabbling in sound are all key to this documentary, whose grainy, VHS-look and feel suits it perfectly. This is both a rough piece of work from Dineen’s early days and an accomplished piece of documentary.

Thought lost for many years, this brings Dineen’s work full circle, bookending a run of films about white British traditions (London Zoo in The Ark, the House of Lords in The Lord’s Tale, Girl Power in Geri).

The special features

The films are supported in this DVD release with a Q&A which took place during the cinema tour of Being Blacker: Dineen, Blacker Dread and Naptali answer questions from the audience and comment on the issues raised during the film as screened.

There are emotive moments around this “slice of life” as Dineen discusses how she focuses on moments which seem important to her subject. The friendship between Dineen and Dread is clearly key to their successful collaboration.

Further interviews (Blacker Dread and Dineen both together and solo) and features (a tribute to Sugar Minott, 1956-2010) round off this valuable set, which feels crucial to any followers of British culture diversity.

The booklet

Dineen talks about her custom and practice as a filmmaker and how it has evolved over time – she notes that Sound Business was planned and shot in a traditional way before she achieved the freedom to experiment.

In an essay by Arike Oke, the role of Dineen as outside filmmaker – being white – is discussed in the contexf of both films, backed up by the 2017 interview in which Dineen reflects on this herself in the context of the stories she is “ready to tell”.

Availability

The Molly Dineen Collection volume 4 is rekeased on BFI DVD on 8 August. Being Blacker will be rekeased to iTunes and Amazon Prime on 22 August.

Being Blacker is showing at BFI Southbank on 9 August as a special event, part of the month-long season From Jamaica to the World: Reggae on Film. Tickets here.

What do you think?

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