Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2024 6:02 pm 
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KAVERY KAUL: ONE HAND DON'T CLAP (1991) - restoration


The world of Calypso music thirty years ago, restored


The beauty of this Eighties Calipso music documentary is that it gives us generations. It shows us the music, in extended performances. It gives us something of the history and the culture. And it glimpses the development of these things from something dim and unrecognized to a thriving industry.

There's the leathery Lord Pretender (1917-2002), who laments the arrival of the beat-heavy, lyrics-light Calypso offshoots, Soca, and even has a song about whats wrong with it, which he sings for us. Rather, he sings it for Lord Kitchener (Aldyn Roberts, 1922-2000), main subject of the film, who represent the day's old guard, along with the once slim, now zoftig-plus Calypso Rose, Kitch's protege. We see both do entertaining and sexy stage performances: Kitch gray-haired, dancing like a man in his twenties.

The conversations are a base while Indian-born, Brooklyn-resident director Kavery Kaul, who first discovered Kitchener's talents while he was performing in Brooklyn, weaves a picture of this music, conveying an understanding of its centrality to the West Indian culture of Trinidad and Tobago. And how We learn about Calypsonians; we learn some of the patois needed to follow the lyrics. We get a feel of how back in the Fifties, say, pure Calypso was full of political and philosophical messages, and also took a comical approach to the war between men and women. A longtime favorite, not heard here, is "Marry an Ugly Woman," aka "If You Wanna Be Happy," done in a rock n roll cover version in the early Sixties by Jimmy Soul, which argues that a pretty woman is only trouble: perhaps sexist by today's standards, but a hilarious example of a Calypso world view, wise but funny.

Kitchener remains the center of the film but does not dominate or overwhelm it: he is more its explainer and ambassador. He clarifies, with good humor, that while Harry Belafonte (who died last year at 96) became famous for Calypso performances, he was not a real Calypso singer. Kitch also readily admits that though the more pop, less verbal Soca isn't his thing, since it's where the money is, and he needs to eat, he performs Soca.

The film's picture morphs into something more collective when it shifts in its last third to 1986 's Carnival time, with the fantastic costumes and the face paint, the rum drinks and the music. And at the festival, whose climactic event is a series of performances by rivals leading to the choice of the Calypso Monarch. we hear the current stars of the music, introduced by Kitchener, who has arrived in a Rolls Royce: Calypso has made him rich, coming from poverty, but with successful Calypso ambassador stints in London and New York, resident now in Trinidad, he lives in a mansion there. Performers at the festival include The MIghty Duke, Black Stalin, several others. Then, "in his first appearance ever in this competition," a man comes on who's obviously new, David Rudder. Kitchener and his younger counterparts wears suits. This one has dreadlocks and a beard, loose clothes. He almost seems unnoticed.

He is not: its just that the camera never gets up close on him. His music is sweet, his voice is melodious, there is a passion about him. And his infectious, song, "Hammer," about blacksmiths and steel bands, highlights the fineness of his band and the beauty of his arrangement. It's no surprise when Kitchener announces the new Monarch, and it's David Rudder. It's a magic moment, the old guard giving first recognition to a new comet on the horizon.

David Rudder (Wikipedia tells us) was an instant, giant success, and became an idol almost on the level of Bob Marley. Alas, he has Parkinson's now, and Kitchener is long gone. But we have this film, beautifully digitally restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Women's Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film & Television with additional support from the Leon Levy Foundation. For fans of music and culture, One Hand Don't Clap is essential viewing.

One Hand Don't Clap, 93 mins., debuted Aug. 28, 1991 in New York. A new 4-K restoration is now being released by Kino Lorber and showing in Los Angeles starting Apr. 8, 2024 at Laemmle Theaters.

The rich, sweet sound of David Rudder.

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