Maestro Documentary preview as part of Solid Garage at Roxy Blue (12 Brant), Friday (September 7). $tba. firstname.lastname@example.org Rating: NNNNN
Manuel-Josell Ramos can't be accused of settling. The Cuban-born, New York-based film director is just wrapping up production on Maestro, a feature documentary on the beginnings of dance music that's been three and a half years in the making. But it started out as something much smaller.
"I was writing something for television on spec, a 30-minute thing on the underground, and then it became this larger project on how it all started. A lot of people want to know where house music came from. We're giving them the evidence."
While most music documentaries focus on the musicians and personalities, Maestro places the music in a broader cultural context.
"This isn't really a celebrity DJ documentary -- this is more about life. We talk to a lot of the patrons who were there, who had friends who lived and died in the scene. We have the real-life testimonials of these people. We didn't want to turn it into a VH1 behind-the-scenes celebrity DJ thing.
"You get a sense of what really happened, the feeling, and why this was important. This is a cultural documentary. Today, the word 'underground' is thrown around as a marketing term, an umbrella. Back then nobody called it underground.
"The Loft's David Mancuso is against that touring superstar DJ thing -- he's just started doing it now. When he goes on tour, it's different. People want to see him as an icon, but when you went to the Loft in New York you were going for the music and the energy, not to look up to this guy. There was an innocence -- you just went to let loose."
The past few years have seen several documentaries on dance music, but this is the first to focus on the early New York years, starting with the Sanctuary and the Loft and ending up at the Paradise Garage.
"We have the last interview with Francis Grasso before he died, we have his testimony on what actually happened in 1969 at the Sanctuary. That place was what inspired Mancuso and a lot of those guys back then. Sanctuary was pivotal because it was the first commercial dance club in New York, and he was pretty much the first to actually mix records."
On Friday, Solid Garage will screen a 10-minute preview trailer for Maestro that contains a small bit of footage of the legendary Paradise Garage.
As well, the musical director of the film, Antonio Ocasio, will DJ a set inspired by the film. Ocasio has been writing original music with Jephte Guillaume to accompany the vintage tracks used throughout the movie. The music will be on sale on a double CD to accompany the theatrical showing.
The full release depends on the distribution deal, but it should happen in early spring. There will be private screenings in most major cities before that.