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Movie review: ‘Sample This’

Posted 4:54pm on Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013

Unrated; 85 min.

It’s amazing how the inquisitive eye can find one intriguing cultural thread, tug on it and then unravel a fascinating forgotten history. That’s exactly what documentarian Dan Forrer has done with Sample This, a celebration of an early ’70s song most people don’t know — The Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache — that turned out to be instrumental (pun intended) in the evolution of hip-hop.

But it’s more than a story of this percussive-heavy track. It’s also a chronicle of the tumultuous time in which the song was born — from Robert Kennedy’s assassination (Bongo Band founder Michael Viner was a young Kennedy aide at the time) to the Manson slayings (a band member claims to have spent three days on the run from Manson’s murderous crew). On top of that, drummer Jim Gordon was convicted of killing his mother.

This all makes for a riveting backdrop to a story of how a Hollywood hustler like Viner tried to make his mark in the entertainment industry, coming up with a gag-gift album supposedly by the world’s best-known mime ( The Best of Marcel Marceau — yes, that was a real thing) and putting together the Bongo Band, even though he had no musical ability himself, for the soundtrack to a D-movie called The Thing With Two Heads. One of the tracks the Bongo Band later came up with, a cover of the Shadows’ Apache, was rescued from discount-bin anonymity by New York hip-hop DJs looking for cool grooves. It soon became the anthem for breakdancers and B-boys everywhere, and has been sampled by everyone from the Sugarhill Gang to Amy Winehouse.

Sample This is the latest in the line of engrossing recent music documentaries — Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap and A Band Called Death among them — that flesh out and show the connections between seemingly random pop-culture moments. As such, it’s invaluable.

— Cary Darling

Exclusive: The Texas Theatre, Dallas; and video on demand

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