Frank Zappa once said: "Most rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." I got a similar vibe from the new documentary Who is Gil Scott-Heron, which is supposed to be an exploration of a man who was famous because of his raw and extremely personal poetry... but which features almost none of his words, almost no footage of him, and which seems wholly uninterested in his own viewpoint on his own life.
Instead this "film" is mostly composed of a bunch of talking head interviews with people who knew him - with a particular emphasis on people who only knew him in the last year or two of his life. Most of them do not seem to be naturally interesting people. They are for the most part not relevant to Scott-Heron's life story. Worst of all, the outsider's insights they have to offer about Gil Scott-Heron are not particularly illuminating - they have the soft condescension that people's reminisces of the dead often have, where the rough edges are washed off to leaving nothing but a generalized kindness behind. If I had to describe Who is Gil Scott-Heron I would say that this movie is people who aren't very descriptive trying to describe an indescribable man for an audience that probably already knows who he is. It is a complete waste of anyone's time and the only reason why I didn't leave the theater before it was over was because it ended about half an hour earlier than I expected it to.
Gil Scott-Heron was a fascinating soul - a powerful singer with a lived in voice, a poet with a unique perspective, an intellectual who talked in understandable terms, a social revolutionary, and at times a junkie. He was the sort of man who was full of so many contradictions that his life cannot really be summed up with words and anyone who would try is a fool. That said, his body of work does speak volumes not only about his own life and experiences but about the world at large, so the best course of action at this point would probably be to let the man speak for himself. The last album he released in his lifetime is incredible, and you would be better off trying to understand and absorb his essence from that than you would be spending one more second contemplating this wholly empty film which lacks the good sense to document the main reason why this iconoclast was so iconoclastic.
Winner: I refuse to even rate this