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Under African Skies (2012)

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Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the journey of his Graceland album, including the political backlash he received for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa designed to end the Apartheid regime.

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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 11 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »

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Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the journey of his Graceland album, including the political backlash he received for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa designed to end the Apartheid regime.

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25 May 2012 (USA)  »

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13 Notes: Paul Simon's Graceland Journey  »

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Always fascinating and sometimes uncomfortable (mostly in a good way)
8 October 2012 | by (US) – See all my reviews

This documentary celebrates the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon's great Graceland' album. At the same time it questions Simon's political choices in going to South Africa to record during the U.N. approved cultural boycott, seeking to keep South Africa isolated and thus put more pressure on the white regime to step down.

Simon's reply is that artists shouldn't be subject to arbitrary political decisions - they must follow their heart and muse first, and he did more to help raise awareness of South Africa by going than by staying away.

The film doesn't take clear sides on these questions and that's fine, a documentary doesn't have to take sides on such a morally complex issue to be successful.

But there is something a bit slippery in Simon's somewhat pat answers that seem to be given a pass. And a meeting between Simon and Dali Tambo, the South African head of Artists Against Apartheid' feels awkward and staged, each man explaining to the other their point of view on what happened, ending with what felt like a very forced forgiveness hug. Is the film letting Simon off too easily? Or is his very awkwardness Berlinger's point? (even his embraces of the musicians who played with him on the album feel like they might not have happened is there wasn't a camera rolling) .

One telling detail, the fact that Simon took first credit on all the music, even though – as we hear some of the original pre-Simon instrumentals from the album – we realize that many of the songs are almost identical, just somewhat re-arranged by Simon. Taking first writing credit seems like an act of hubris that the film never mentions or questions.


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