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December 12, 2006

Filed under: movies»reviews»cult

Review: It's All Gone Pete Tong

Maybe It's All Gone Pete Tong is funnier if you're a DJ, but I doubt it. This isn't a Spinal Tap, where many of the jokes become funnier if you've experienced the soap opera of rock band membership. And Pete Tong isn't without humor, but it seemed to me to be unsure of itself: is it a mockumentary, a cautionary tale, or a satire of club culture?

The center of the movie, Frankie Wilde, is a hotshot DJ spinning in clubs on Ibiza when years of drug abuse and loud music take their toll. The increasingly-deaf Wilde tries to hide his inability to hear as long as possible, but since he's producing an album (horribly) and still trying to match beats (badly), it's not much of a defense. "Generally, the field of music, other than the obvious example, has been dominated by people who can hear" says one interviewee. Eventually, Frankie loses his little remaining hearing in a monitoring accident, his wife leaves him, and he locks himself up in a soundproof room to try to recover. When he emerges a year later, it's with a new sense of purpose. He finds a lip-reading teacher, learns to DJ by feeling the bass through subwoofers, and ditches his addictions.

Part of the problem is that this plotline is really very trite--a standard recovery story--and the filmmakers aren't capable of finding a solid approach for it. Sometimes they shoot interviews (including plenty of cameos from real DJs like Paul van Dyk) and hand-held shots, documentary-style. But that approach is intercut with elements from a more traditional screwball comedy: one running gag has Wilde's cocaine habit represented by a man in a giant, filthy rat costume, who forces his face into huge piles of the drug. The inconsistent shift between those extremes means that the wilder jokes are too dry, and the dry humor too overcooked.

Which is not to say that this isn't a funny movie. There are moments, like the interview line above, or a scene where Wilde's agent tries to get his attention by yelling and hammering on a glass door, only to be thwarted by Frankie's deafness. And the last half-hour handles the issue of hearing loss with surprising sweetness and sensitivity--for a film that also includes an obviously illegitimate biracial son as an unspoken joke.

The art of old-school DJing is all about matching the rhythms, tempos, and sounds of records in order to fade from one to another. With digital music came a number of new techniques, like beat-slicing, time-stretching, and sampling, but even tools like Ableton Live still prominently feature an A-B crossfade function. But for It's All Gone Pete Tong, there's no smooth transition between its disparate sides. It's got a nice beat in there somewhere, but you can't dance to it.

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