September 23, 2019  (Web Review)

Milford Graves Full Mantis

(2018) 91 min. DVD: $99.95: public libraries; $350: colleges & universities, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $400. The Cinema Guild ( DRA. PPR. Closed captioned. ISBN: 0-7815-1586-6.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

While there are far more informative music profile documentaries than Milford Graves Full Mantis, few capture the feel of a free jazz musician’s life as fully. Unlike other projects, this film showcases the quick-talking percussionist’s unique interests and philosophies rather than detail a chronology of the subject’s achievements. Filmmaker Jake Meginsky, a former student of Graves, focuses on his mentor’s music, visual art, and martial arts practice (the title comes from Graves’s self-created, praying mantis-inspired moves). As Graves advises in the opening inter-title, “Don’t try to analyze it, just take it in.” Archival film shot in a Japanese school for autism (1981), Antwerp, Belgium (1973), and Hakushu, Japan (1988) show Graves pounding away with unbridled energy, while more recent sequences confirm that his energy has hardly diminished, whether he’s playing at Brandeis University (2015), the Park Avenue Armory (2016), or in his art-filled basement (2011). A concert for kids in collaboration with butoh dancer Min Tanaka proved particularly meaningful to Graves, who wanted to go beyond language, and took the opportunity to communicate rhythmically. At first the children seem unsure how to respond, but by the end of the performance, the gymnasium is full of youngsters dancing. During the course of the film, Graves also records his own heartbeat, which he proceeds to manipulate electronically. His desire to put his unique stamp on diverse art forms extends from creating experimental sounds to working in his family home in South Jamaica, Queens, which features a vegetable garden with rusted metal sculptures and decorative glass-shard mosaics in the manner of Antoni Gaudí. With assistance from co-director Neil Young, Meginsky delivers a unique and engaging portrait of a restlessly creative mind. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)