Milford Graves Full Mantis review – cutting-edge drums and terrific storytelling | Documentary films

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What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer. Except that this delightfully entertaining and idiosyncratic music documentary ought to banish the stereotype of drummers as talentless thickos. It’s also one of those films you can happily watch without having a jot of prior interest in its subject.

Just as well, because few will have heard of Milford Graves, the avant-garde jazz percussionist. In archive footage of a noisy performance with other 1960s pioneers – this film is too cool for subtitles to tell you who’s who – there’s a woman in the audience with her hands clamped over her ears, face a rictus of pure agony. I’m with her on a lot of his music. But Graves, now in his 70s, is a raconteur par excellence. As well as the drumming, he’s a multi-hyphenate, dabbling in gardening, herbalism, healing and acupuncture. Oh, and he once invented a martial art, and his basement is filled with mad scientist machinery to measure people’s vibrations.

Watch the trailer for Milford Graves Full Mantis

The film is directed by a former student, Jake Meginsky, along with Neil Young (no, not that one). Graves is interviewed at home in Queens, New York: his suburban house is covered with glittering mosaics and the garden is a chaotic joy, yellow peppers growing next to dahlias. At one point Graves bends over some spinach and chomps away at a leaf – still attached to the plant, all the better to absorb its “cosmic energy”. There’s also terrific footage of him performing (the solo stuff is easier on the ear). During a tour of Japan in what looks like the early 80s, he does a gig at a school for children with autism. Something elemental in the drumming snares their souls. By the end, the kids are up on their feet all making different abstract shapes to the music – like Graves, they’re marching to their own rhythm.

• The release is part of Doc/Circuit, a new initiative from Sheffield Doc/Fest to bring new, national audiences to documentaries.

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Source: The Guardian
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