Two deaths punctuate Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, the new, absurdist chronology of Peanut Butter Wolf and his beloved Stones Throw Records. Though J Dilla was widely known before signing to PBW‘s label and Charizma never made music under the imprint, the two talents’ respective passings mark the creation and recreation of what is perhaps music’s strangest family tree.
Charizma, a dear friend of Wolf’s, is endeared to us via glimpses into the goofy, profound bond the two shared–“together forever” they repeat to a disbelieving interviewer–as well as concert videos capturing his elastic presence. The hurt is only more palpable, then, when he’s taken from us. The early framing of Charizma as one of the film’s main protagonists makes Wolf’s increasing hunger in tragedy’s wake (which quickly led to the foundation of Stones Throw) all the more understandable. The preferred style of the film’s opening third is epitomized in how we learn of Charizma’s death.
With the dominoes in place, including a wrenching recollection from Charizma’s then-girlfriend–they weren’t going to speak for a day so as to build excitement for their next encounter–all director Jeff Broadway has to do is knock them to the floor with a deft, artful flourish. We see flashes of flowers and the Charizma’s portrait, the music intensifies, and we know. The details of Charizma’s fate are soon revealed (he was shot resisting a car jacking), and we mourn in unison with Wolf, Our Vinyl‘s lone standing hero.
Out of what he calls a “desperate” need for his music with Charizma to be heard, Wolf forges onward and founds Stones Throw. This point, too, is delivered with an unexpected grace. Instead of launching into the rest of the label’s history, we quickly jump to the present to see what Stones has become. We’re treated to vignettes of many of the label’s current artists of note: Homeboy Sandman ponders on and nails what makes Stones Throw special (“they find artists, they don’t create artists”); Jonwayne makes a beat from his Newton’s cradle, among other things; Guilty Simpson and Jonti are spliced together as evidence of the label’s paradoxical roster; a Quasimoto sticker–foreshadowing the entire chapter devoted to Madlib— is spotted on the side of an LA building. Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler, The Creator, Common, Flying Lotus, ?uestlove, Talib Kweli and Kanye share adoring memories of fandom, influence, and partnership.
The contrast between the collage-like frenzy of the opening act–fittingly reminiscent of a beat by Madlib (he did do the soundtrack, after all)–with the measured, compounding portraits that follow show Broadway’s command of visual style. His concerns stretch from and beyond style’s service of substance to a jovial exploration of how the two careen off one another. Weaving the sloppier elements (grainy old show and studio footage, bizarre montages) with crisper pieces (hi-def interviews, perfectly remastered and mixed snippets of Stones Throw classics), Broadway delivers a tangible story of immense, uncontrollable talent and an overarching distaste for rules, regulations, and cleanliness.
Apart from how it interacts with Stones Throw’s story or aura, the dirty flash of Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton justifies itself, frame after immaculate frame. The film is adorned with gorgeous shots of vast, bustling record shops, the LA skyline, rollicking, dapper parties, and palm tree after palm tree. Each of the interview settings are intelligent and engaging, yet never distracting. Madlib is enthroned on leather, Earl squirms in a wicker chair, and Kanye reclines on a pristine off-white sofa, his marble relics clearly visible in the background.
One interview shot stands apart from the rest. The camera peers down between the huge white sheets hanging from the ballroom ceiling, and we see a slim figure, slumped in silence, his head and black fedora angling toward the floor. The quick, piercing image would actually be a suitable summation of Peanut Butter Wolf’s composed yet abnormal, almost haunting vibe through the duration of his film-driving interview. This particular shot comes in the wake of the film’s second pivotal loss: the passing of J Dilla. Though Donuts was the Detroit legend’s only solo release on Stones Throw during his lifetime, he receives nearly as much screen time as the label’s crown jewel, Madlib, and double the emotional fanfare of Charizma. Amongst the most wrenching moments: a video of Dilla being wheeled out on stage for one of his final public appearances, and a deep investigation into Madlib’s relationship with Dilla, culminating in a disinterest with hip-hop when his friend passes.
The central, lone Wolf, is deeply effected, too, as the aforementioned shot suggests. In mourning and out of respect to Madlib’s non-rap ventures, PBW is changed, freed, into the oddest planes his artistry and artistic tastes that, beforehand, had been filtered as extraordinary, strange, yet intelligible hip-hop. Post-Dilla, Wolf gets what J-Rocc calls “Folerio‘d out.” The first scene after Dilla has been laid to rest is of Gary Wilson‘s lengthy, warped brand of psychadelic rock. From there, Stones continues to spiral further into absurdity, and director Broadway doesn’t shy away from criticizing his subject, though all criticism is done with a resilient trust in Wolf. “A lot of labels put out what they think will do well. Wolf presses his little brother’s punk brand,” we hear, before seeing that average-to-bad punk band in action.
With death acting so prominently as the film’s (and the label’s) engine, it seems Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton would come out a rather grim, even trudging piece. Luckily, the film never lacks energy, and often boasts consistent laughs. Among the most energizing moments are our glimpses into the film’s many subjects’ mutual love. ?uestlove recounts Dilla telling him that Madlib’s music was over ?uest’s head, that the LA producer could only be making music for Dilla himself. That moment alone justifies Our Vinyl‘s existence for fans of Dilla, Madlib, or documentaries. The film works largely as a comedy, in fact: try not to laugh at Earl’s weird posture, Kanye’s description of Dilla’s drums (“like good pussy”), or Madlib’s description of the largely separate work process for Madvillainy: “The only thing we did together was a lot of chocolate shrooms.” One of the best, fullest laughs comes on slowly, as Folerio makes his first appearance, and those of us who were unacquainted slowly realize…that’s Wolf! While the sight of the otherwise unassumingly odd Wolf in a shimmering black wig, missing high notes by miles is hilarious, it serves as a testament, like much of the rest of the film does, to a man and his team willing to travel endlessly inward and onward in the name of creativity and strangeness. Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is a triumph: it is Wolf’s eighteen years of sustained, twisted lightening, captured in a lightening-shaped bottle.
Catch Jeff Broadway’s Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton in your city! Check for a nearby theater below.
|Mar. 28th||Grand Rapids||MI||UICA||Screening||BOX OFFICE ONLY|
|Mar. 31st||Dallas||TX||Alamo Drafthouse DFW||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 1st||Seattle||WA||Cinerama||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 1st||Bellingham||WA||Pickford Film Center||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 1st||Yonkers||NY||Alamo Drafthouse||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 1st||Columbus||OH||Gateway Film Center||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 1st||Arlington||MA||The Regent Theatre||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 1st||Atlanta||GA||The Plaza Theatre||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 2nd||Nashville||TN||The Belcourt Theatre||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 3rd||Tacoma||WA||The Grand||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||Nashville||TN||The Belcourt Theatre||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 3rd||Atlanta||GA||The Plaza Theatre||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 3rd||Columbus||OH||Gateway Film Center||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||Yonkers||NY||Alamo Drafthouse||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||Cleveland||OH||Capitol Theatre||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||Pittsburgh||PA||Southside Works||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||Denver||CO||The Oriental||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||Fairfax||VA||Angelika Mosaic||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 3rd||San Diego||CA||Reading Gaslamp||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 4th||Phoenix||AZ||FilmBar||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 12th||Denver||CO||Sie Filmcenter||Screening||PURCHASE TICKETS|
|Apr. 14th||Austin||TX||Alamo Drafthouse Ritz||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 15th||Kansas City||MO||Alamo Drafthouse Main St.||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 15th||Portland||OR||The Hollywood Theatre||Screening||COMING SOON|
|Apr. 17th||Portland||OR||The Hollywood Theatre||Screening||COMING SOON|
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