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In 1995, an eclectic group of San Francisco musicians and their friends took
a trip to the remote Russian-Mongolian region of Tuva, where one of them
entered a throat-singing contest. The whole thing was filmed and this is
Paul "Earthquake" Pena is a blind San Francisco blues singer-guitarist-harmonica player who has worked with the likes of B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, and T-bone Walker. In the early '70's, he made a rock album that included the song "Jet Airliner", later covered and made into a hit by the Steve Miller Band. The important thing about Pena, as far as this film is concerned, however, is that he is a self-taught master of Tuvan-style throat-singing.
Throat-singing is a style of singing where one sings two or three notes at once, with some very interesting harmonic effects. As pointed out in examples in the film, the sounds are similar to nose-flutes, Jews-harps, Australian dijeridoos, and leaf-blowers.
Pena's adventures begin when he goes to a concert in Frisco given by Kongar-al Ondar, who is described as the Elvis of Tuvan throat-singing. Ondar hears Pena sing and invites him to go to Tuva to compete in a throat-singing contest. A somewhat bizarre organization known as the Friends of Tuva arranges the trip for Pena, his trombone-playing friend, a recording engineer, and an eccentric elderly DJ. They also arrange to have the trip filmed by Roko Belic and his brother.
The film is mostly about how Pena wins the hearts of Tuvans by singing traditional Tuvan folk songs, and then combining the singing style with the Delta blues he specializes in. It also concentrates on the friendship that is forged between Pena and Ondar.
While this is not exactly top-of-the-line stuff (Hi-Def video just ain't no substitute for film), and we never really learn about anyone besides Pena and the late physicist Richard Feynman, who co-founded the Friends of Tuva, this is truly a fascinating movie, so I gave it an 8.
Incredible journey, told in this documentary. It was well paced, never
boring, humorous and inspiring. An amazing accomplishment from such a
Rating 8 out of 10
The movie revolves around the country of Tuva in Central Asia. Tuvans have
an unusual style of singing, throatsinging, which produces several tones at
once, sometimes very high or low. A blind American bluesman, Paul Pena,
teaches himself to sing this way, and ends up going to Tuva to compete in
their triennial throatsinging contest.
The description of the movie does not come close to describing it. Somehow the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman is involved, and his curiosity and vision drive the events. The amazing talent of Pena is shown in an unexpected context. And the culture and worth of the Tuvan people, exemplified by their national artist, Kongar-ol Ondar, is highlighted.
This documentary shows what is best about the human race, how fate draws people together, and what we have in common in spite of our obvious differences. It is one of the most inspiring movies I've seen.
I loved it, but my friends did not because they said it was too much of a documentary. Egad - what did they think it was going to be?!! Yes, it is very much a documentary, but Paul Pena (the main character)was such a warm character who was so REAL. Kongar-ol Ondar's (the superstar of Tuva) happiness was wonderfully infectious. The insights into the country of Tuva would satisfy any armchair traveler. I enjoyed the music, in spite of the wierd throat noise, but my friends (we are 36, 50, 52 yrs old) found the low gutteral tones off-putting. My advice is that if you would like to see a very original movie made in a very remote place (Tuva is not even in my big new Times atlas!) about a blind man with a big warm heart, and you don't mind documentaries - run and see it!!!
I can't recommend this doc. more highly. It's wonderfully warm, touching and fascinating all the way through. I saw it at the SBIFF where it was a last minute entry; had it been entered for the audience choice award I am sure we would have voted as did the Sundance audience! Genghis Blues tells us about Tuva, a remote area, bordering on the north of Mongolia. (Remember Richard Feynman and the book, Tuva or Bust?) This is the portrait of the amazing journey of blind San Francisco bluesman, Paul Pena, to the 1995 2nd International (UNESCO-sponsored) throat-singing contest in Kyzyl, Tuva. It's a triumph from start to finish. See it!
This movie shows the best parts of humanity: the seemingly random attraction of the protagonist to another culture, the amazing talent which allows him to absorb a completely different musical idiom merely by listening to it, the amazing warmth of the cultural hero of a small, proud country, the pride and acceptance of the Tuvan people. These all combine with the unseen presence of one of the greatest American scientists to form a unique movie.
This documentary is so unbelievable and so entertaining, it should be best doc feature at next year's academy awards. The stranger in a strange land tale goes in so many heartwarming directions. And you have never, ever heard music like this. Go!
As a long-time fan of the blues and the music of Tuva, it was a real
to see this movie. This film is beautiful, and though provoking too.
Showing, as it does, how the shallow west will throw a blind man on the
trash heap when it (the west) loses interest, yet in Tuva he was instantly
recognized for the talent that he is.
It was also a thrill to see that the legacy of Richard Feynmann is evidently alive and well in Tuva.
This is an excellent documentary, one of the best if not the best of
1999. Very sad, and moving as well as incredibly intriguing.
The film chronicles Paul Pena an old musician who was plagued by illness and blind from birth. While surfing on his ham radio Paul hears Tuvan throat singing and searches all over the place to find the source of this bizarre and fascinating music. He becomes a natural throat singer and travels to Tuva to compete in a competition.
Beautiful music throughout the film, and the Tuvan countryside looks as if it is a mystical land inhabited by friendly descendent's of Genghis Kahn who maintain a rich and textured culture.
This is worth while for anyone who is interested in music, documentaries or Tuva.
What can I say other than I loved it. As far as documentaries go, this
one stands side by side among the greats as far as I'm concerned. Not
only do you get a tour of a land forgotten, having the opportunity to
get to know a country, it's inhabitants, and their customs, but you'll
have the chance to really see and hear Tuvan throat singing, something
most American's have never even heard of. All this, through the eyes of
a blind man, Paul Pena. A famous blues man who, over a period of 7 or 8
years, mastered throat singing well enough to travel to Tuva and
compete in the Throat Singing Competition.
I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the world, interested in experiencing a very beautiful and underexposed style of music and singing, interested in a wonderful heart warming story, and amazing people.
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