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Genghis Blues
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by iF Magazine

"The eerie 'throat-singing' will haunt you."
4 stars

A documentary about a blind blues singer? You’d have to be pretty cold hearted to pan such an effort. Actually GENGHIS BLUES is the kind of off-the-wall, multi national, heart rendering picture film festivals love. And with good reason. The story of Paul “Earthquake” Pena, GENGHIS BLUES chronicles the legendary musician’s journey to Tuva, a small country just outside Outer Mongolia where “throat-singing” is a national pastime.

Pena, best known for penning “Jet Airliner,” a blues classic Steve Miller made into a hit in the 1970s, has long been a session musician with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, B. B. King and T-Bone Walker. The son of West African immigrants, Pena plays around the San Fransisco Bay area specializing in a unique blend of Mississippi Delta blues, Cape Verdian Folk and the focus of this film, Tuvan throat-music. The film chronicles his 1995 journey to the heart of Tuva, to meet with the masters and compete in the International Throat-Singing Symposium.

The film opens with testimonials from blues legends like B.B. King who make one immediately sit up straight and say “why haven’t I heard about this Pena guy before?” Then, quicker than you can say “I’ve got the blues,” Pena and a ragtag group of musicologists, eccentrics and hanger-ons jet over to the Tuvan capital of Kyzyl. There Pena meets Kongar-ool Ondar, the country's leading throat-singer and a national hero. The two musicians get along swimmingly and form the heart of the film. In the course of GENGHIS BLUES, Pena competes in the big contest (I won’t tell you the outcome, lest I spoil some of the film's dramatic tension), rides a horse, meets the townsfolk, gets sick, gets lost and in the film’s most starling scene, is the guest of honor at a sheep slaughter.

As written, shot, edited and directed by Roko Belic, a relative newcomer, GENGHIS BLUES is a slap dash, rough around the edges affair. The film seems to stumble along, there’s no real style to it and the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t need any. Pena, a complex man still recovering from a massive depression that began in 1990 when his wife passed away, is such a singularly unique film presence, he easily dominates every scene and keeps us wanting to learn more about him.

It’s little wonder this man who “sounds just like Popeye singing the blues” has captured the hearts of film festival goers in places like Austin, Texas and San Fransisco. You are warned however - the throat singing will haunt you long after the end credits run.-- Johnny Clay

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4607&reviewer=119
originally posted: 02/23/01 00:19:48
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User Comments

12/15/05 drfardook its a bit rough but the story is solid. the dvd has extra tracks well worth a watch 4 stars
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  30-Nov-2000 (G)

Directed by
  Roko Belic

Written by
  Roko Belic

  Paul Pena
  Richard Feynman
  Kongar-ol Ondar

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