Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World (NR)

Documentary 103 min. November 3, 2017
By Alan Scherstuhl
While overstuffed and scattershot, this episodic documentary makes a vital argument: That American popular music, especially the blues and rock ‘n' roll, owe much more to Native Americans than has been commonly credited. The title comes from Link Wray's slow-mo power-chord masterpiece "Rumble," the 1958 instrumental that is the headwaters of all later rock/punk/metal guitar badassery. (Steven Van Zandt notes in the film that it's the "them song for juvenile delinquency.") Born into the Shawnee tribe, Wray channeled his people's musical heritage into his own art, as did the many other performers profiled here. There's Mildred Bailey, the early jazz singer whose childhood near an Idaho reservation of the Coeur d'Alene deeply influenced her phrasing — and that of her fans, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Perhaps more influential still is Charley Patton, whose blues howl and rhythmic guitar playing united the Choctaw and the African and inspired Son House, Howlin' Wolf, and many more who finally won the attention of white America after the endorsement of the British Invasion rock groups that they influenced.

Director Catherine Bainbridge has assembled a wealth of archival performances that she balances out with illuminating recent interviews and, on occasion, thrilling scenes of people just listening. A descendant of Patton's spins one of the bluesman's records and marvels: "That's Choctaw." At its best, Rumble invites us to hear more, to consider the source of the American rhythms and sounds, to wonder why news of our music's heritage is news.
Catherine Bainbridge Robbie Robertson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Martin Scorsese, Tony Bennett Kino Lorber

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