Hailed as "one of the most inspiring and exhilarating documentaries in years" (Steve Pond, The Wrap), Louder Than a Bomb tells the story of four Chicago high school poetry teams as they prepare for and compete in the world's largest youth slam. By turns hopeful and heartbreaking, the film captures the turbulent lives of these unforgettable kids, exploring the ways writing shapes their world, and vice versa. Louder Than a Bomb is not about "high school poetry" as we often think of it. It's about language as a joyful release, irrepressibly talented teenagers obsessed with making words dance. While the topics they tackle are often deeply personal, what they put into their poems-and what they get out of them-is universal: the defining work of finding one's voice. Written by
We're in the golden age of documentaries -- in 2011 alone, we had (in my rough order of preference) Pina, Bill Cunningham New York, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, We Were Here, The Arbor, Project Nim, The Interrupters, Into the Abyss, Senna, Buck, and The Last Lions all released to some combination of critical and popular acclaim (and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which I missed in 3D).
But not every great doc gets the attention it deserves. I saw a trailer for this at my local art-house cinema (part of the Landmark chain), so I'm flabbergasted that it only grossed 40K, has so few votes here, and has been rented less than 2000 times at Netflix. (In comparison, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, which was the best underrated doc of the year, has been rented 770,000 times despite going direct to DVD.) I watched this with my 20-year-old godson, who is a regular (and one-time winner!) at the Wednesday night slam at the Cantab in Cambridge, Mass. He gives it a 9.2. The film captures remarkably well the sense of community that bonds slam poets together, and some of the poetry and performances are jaw-droppingly good.
I actually wonder whether this film would have been even better if at had been *longer*. It is very clearly modeled after Spellbound -- the "problem" is that the competition here is so worth watching that the film devotes much more time to it, and hence there is significantly less background about the four young poets that are being followed. It's clear that the filmmakers did not follow their home lives a la Hoop Dreams, and it's not hard to wonder whether they might have had a minor masterpiece if they had had the opportunity to do so. (I admit to brain cramping and not checking the DVD extras for deleted scenes before sending the disk back -- which I regret now!)
I can't call this a "must-see" for general audiences (hence the 7 grade -- I'm a very tough grader), but it certainly is for anyone who loves poetry, slam or otherwise.
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