Jay Z’s music fest showcased in Made in America

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A documentary by Ron Howard. Featuring Jay Z, Eddie Vedder, and Janelle Monáe. Rating unavailable.

With its implied deference to Bruce Springsteen’s homegrown excitations, Jay Z’s two-day music festival, launched in Philadelphia in 2012, is the superstar rapper’s attempt to “give back” to his public, drawing upon artists from various genres and time periods. Made in America, then, finds veteran director Ron Howard, in his first nonfiction venture, running around the same-named event, with backstage forays and other side trips.

The result is more like a polished playlist of excerpts than a probing state-of-the-nation affair, with all participants pronouncing pretty much what you’d expect them to say about themselves and about their famous benefactor. From the back of his limo, the former Shawn Carter utters heartfelt things about a childhood spent “running the streets” of Brooklyn, which he revisits, nostalgically.

Among the well-recorded concert high points are slightly longer performances from singers Janelle Monáe and Jill Scott, bluesman Gary Clark Jr., Sweden’s the Hives, and brassy newcomer Rita Ora. There are also glimpses of Mrs. Z (aka Beyoncé) and a late visit from Kanye West.

Ol’ Richie Cunningham is not a hard-hitting interviewer, but there are some good comments. D.M.C., of the newly reunited Run-D.M.C., asserts that “Music goes where religion and politics fail” (while also proclaiming himself a Jim Croce fan) and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder declares that “To most Americans, politics is just bad weather.”

No call to arms here, nor any suggestion that the audience should be auditing its governing systems. Still, Richie Rich’s meandering visits with vendors and stage technicians convey the sense that something is rotten in places other than Denmark.

Hey, nothing a little beer won’t cure. Those new Budweiser cans sure look huge in the centre of the frame—Bud and Live Nation being principal sponsors of the event, which this year will spread to Los Angeles.

All in all, a fine advertorial gift to the underclasses from those who’ve Made It in America.

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