Everything you wanted to know about being a DJ but were afraid to ask.
While watching this documentary, I couldn't stop myself from comparing it to another disc I've also watched for this site: Scratch. I was surprised that it has been over a year and a half since I watched that first one, because I can still clearly remember it—even though I no longer own it.
Both of these documentaries talk about DJs and what they do. The DJs here are those that you encounter in the club scene, and not the guy you hire to spin a couple of records at your wedding. It is incredibly interesting to see the dedication and level of involvement of these people in what they do. From my initial standpoint, I thought being a DJ was a part-time gig. While that may be true for a couple people, for most, being a DJ is a lifestyle.
Inevitably, I will end up comparing the two discs because one is clearly better than the other, and Intellect: Techno House Progressive isn't the victor.
Facts of the Case
This two-disc set has two clearly defined goals:
Disc One is the Documentary Disc, containing two features: "Intellect Documentary" and "Artist Interviews." As the names clearly imply, these features give you some background into the lifestyle and the art of the DJ. The latter provides a wealth of interviews with some of the top DJs out there right now.
Disc Two is the Knowledge Disc, containing two features: "DJ Tutorial" and "Bonus DJ Knowledge." These work to teach new and budding DJs how to become slick and professional DJs. It covers everything from picking your platter to phrasing, blending, and mixing to getting an agent to live shows.
I was very disappointed by this set. After being amazed and entertained by Scratch, I was numbed and bored by Intellect. Why? There are reasons galore, but I'm going to organize my thoughts by critiquing each of the four main sections on the two discs.
"Documentary": Clocking in at a skinny 26 minutes, I was surprised by the brevity of this feature. As it's the "documentary" and is the first choice on the disc, I was prepared for this to run well over an hour and be a fairly thorough look at DJs…from their point of view. Instead, this featurette has no logical flow, no definitive point to make, and no idea of what it's trying to show/teach me. At the end, I really wondered what the point of this was. Was it to show me all the hot women dancing to their music? Or maybe it was to show me how tough and challenging it is to be a DJ once you have the chance to break in? Whatever their intent was, it was lost on me. This did not feel like a comprehensive documentary.
"Artist Interviews": To the other extreme, we have this section that goes on for two hours and 20 minutes. While the documentary is entirely too short and incomplete, these interviews go on for too long. Odd, however, is that while you have hours of interviews to watch, you really don't learn anything about the people interviewed. How is that possible? Because 34 DJs are presented here, and, if you do the math, that works out to about five minutes per person. That is too short to really get to know a lot about someone. Further, over the course of the interviews, there is little variety in what these people have to say. So, I ask, why did you need to interview 34 DJs? Why not just pick a half a dozen or so and do some thorough interviews about the people and how they got to where they are?
"DJ Tutorial": Ah, just the right size. Coming in at one hour and 39 minutes, this tutorial section is very much a tutorial. Hosted by Nigel Richards, you'll learn step-by-step how to become a DJ. Nigel will give you tips on buying your player, working it, understanding all the dials, and so forth. You'll get the lowdown on all the equipment and then move on to using it and becoming a proper DJ. Interspersed throughout are even some "practice" sessions for you to polish up on what you've just learned. The problem with this tutorial is that it's just so incredibly basic. Though all of my knowledge about the DJ scene comes from this disc and Scratch, I practically knew everything already. (Not that I could do any of it, mind you.) I learned very little. And if I can say that, then what will others far more into DJ-ing have to say? Consider this: The whole "tutorial" runs for 97 minutes, yet the first real lesson in DJ-ing doesn't start until 27 minutes in. Further, sorry Nigel, but you aren't all that engaging or entertaining as a tutor.
"Bonus DJ Knowledge": This last batch uses its 55 minutes to go a step beyond the basics. Now that you've been properly "trained," you're ready to get some gigs and rock it. This bonus knowledge section, without a single narrator like the tutorial, supposedly guides you in producing tracks, marketing, getting a booking agent, playing out, programming and preparation, and doing the live show. But, just like the tutorial section, it's all too superfluous. It may help you with a few nuggets and be a good general guide, but it's far too shallow and incomplete for you to reference. And, our motley cast of characters really comes across as petulant in this segment.
Thus, the entire problem with Intellect is that it's shallow. The discs may have over five hours of segments, but it doesn't add up to much. You don't really learn much about the lifestyle, about the DJs, or about how to be a DJ. And as you plow through all of this, it's just not entertaining. I did not enjoy watching Intellect at all. I know it's not the material because I really did like the music that was played throughout, and I really did enjoy Scratch, so the problem is with this rather flat presentation. While Scratch made me appreciate the DJ, Intellect turned me off.
Let's see if I can generate a little more enthusiasm via the transfers on this set from our friends over at Navarre. On the video side, there isn't much to get you to stand up and dance in the streets. The full frame transfer is pretty average for a documentary. I'm presuming that most of this was shot from hand-held digital cameras, so the quality isn't spectacular or terrible…based on the camera. What you should expect is a variety of quality based on the locale of the scene. For instance, the outdoor interview with Paul Van Dyk is beautifully clear with bold and vibrant colors. On the other hand, the numerous club shots are dark, muddled, and grainy. It's just the nature of the beast in this one.
But there are bigger problems afoot with the audio, including one that is completely inexcusable in my book. As much as this film is about the DJ, it's about the music. Hence, why isn't this disc in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround? Why is my only option a DD2.0 mix? I am always befuddled when music is not given a 5.1 mix, especially in cases like this when it is vital to the tale. To me, this is an absolute shame because the music is very good, and I should be completely immersed with sound. It shouldn't be limited to coming at me from the front. Is that how it works in the clubs? No. So, why degrade your work for those who care enough to want it at home? Making it even worse is that there's a problem with the DD2.0 mix: it's overbalanced to the left. That's just rubbing salt in the wound. I'm extremely disappointed with the disregard given to the audio mix.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This disc was hard to quantify in terms of "film" and bonus materials. Though I've lumped all four sections together during the review, for the sake of scoring I considered Disc One to be the "film" and Disc Two to be the bonus materials. My original thought was that the interviews would also be lumped in with the bonus items, but that would make the scoring even worse. I believe it was the intent of StepFilm to have this project looked at as one item with four sections and not in any other division.
With great disappointment I have to tell you that Intellect: Techno House Progressive is not good. I've looked at Amazon and on the StepFilm website, and I've seen a lot of praise for the film. I can't join that club. Because of the numerous reasons already put forth, I cannot recommend this film as a purchase (or a rental, if you were to ever stumble across it at your video store). If you are interested in the DJ scene, then I would suggest Scratch as your film of choice. It does everything that Intellect didn't. To quote myself, Scratch is "quite an enjoyable movie that goes into fascinating detail" about the DJ culture; Intellect isn't.
I hereby find Intellect: Techno House Progressive guilty on the charges of audio tampering and impugning the good name of DJs.
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