How low can a punk get? Director James Lathos gives a pretty good idea with Finding Joseph I: The HR from Bad Brains Documentary, a sympathetic if sensationalistic picture of the ups and downs of punk/reggae frontman Paul “H.R.” Hudson, also known by his Jamaican name Joseph I. The film is a companion of sorts to Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. from Bad Brains by Lathos and Howie Abrams.
Lathos lays out essential information about Hudson’s unconventional and rather nomadic upbringing, his path to the limelight via the ’80s D.C. punk scene, and his spiritual journey. That last part sounds wretchedly dull, but it’s not: Hudson became a Rastafarian, and his music reflected it. The problem is, he also started to unravel around the same time, frequently leaving and rejoining Bad Brains like a dreadlocked Ross Perot.
Sure, there are early live performances that are obligatory in a documentary like Finding Joseph I; fortunately, they’re also pretty damned cool. Many of Hudson’s contemporaries offer insightful, astute, and often entertaining commentary. If he doesn’t avoid nostalgia, Lathos at least doesn’t get sappy. Smart.
All that said, I found the whole thing disconcertingly exploitative. I appreciate that somewhere in here is a point about mental health. Frankly, though, it could have been advanced without making Hudson look like such a hopeless freak. I doubt it was intentional, as this really does come off as a labor of love and not mean-spirited. Nonetheless, Finding Joseph I has an insidious ring to it.
With Earl Hudson, Ras Michael, Guy Oseary, Vernon Reid, Corey Glover, Duff McKagan, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Sonny Sandoval, Cro-Mags, Chino Moreno, Deftones, Fishbone, Sublime, The Wailers, Englishman, Chuck Treece, Rakaa Iriscience, Alec MacKaye, Ian MacKaye, Saul Williams, Opie Ortiz
Production: Giraffe Productions, Small Axe Films
Distribution: Small Axe Films
Screening followed by a live Q and A with Jay Mohr
(The Chop Shop/1st Ward) C+