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Case Number 16972: Small Claims Court

Buy One Love: Word Sounds And Powah at Amazon

One Love: Word Sounds And Powah

MVD Visual // 1988 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // August 6th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Victah Valdiviah has the powah, but promises to use it only for the bettah.

The Charge

Three films that form a unique document of Rasta history, beliefs, and artistic creation.

The Case

There are two ways to make a documentary film about a mysterious, not-well-understood subculture: attempt to fill in holes for newcomers while explaining the culture fully and respectfully, or making an impenetrable film that only appeals to people who already belong to it. One Love, unfortunately, falls into the second category. If you're already a Rastafarian, One Love will easily confirm your deepest beliefs, but even reggae fans who have some familiarity with the Rasta religion through song lyrics will find much of this film baffling and obscure. Unless you're already a devout follower of Haile Selassie you'll find One Love difficult to watch or understand, even if you already have some prior knowledge.

One Love consists of three 36-minute films covering different aspects of Rastafarian culture. "Nyabingi Blood & Fire" captures a Rasta drum and poetry ritual, "Blues for Rastafari" mixes spoken-word poetry with a brief history of the Rastafarian religion, and "Word Sounds & Powah" contains some lectures on Rastafarian culture as well as concert footage of the '80s reggae band the Naturalites. However, considering all three films are equally disjointed and clumsy, they could have all been edited together into one long film without really doing any harm. All three films contain interview segments with Rasta philosopher and poet Jah Bones but these haven't been edited into any coherent form or story. They're just randomly stitched together, interspersed with poetry readings, music, or interviews with other Rastafarians.

Then again, maybe it wasn't really possible to edit these interviews into a coherent form. One Love's director Howard Johnson made a huge mistake in relying so heavily on Jah Bones, mainly because most of what he says is little more than extended streams of Rasta platitudes with little detail. There's plenty of talk about how hard it is to live in "Babylon" (Western society), about giving love and humility, about fighting "downpression" (Rasta slang for "oppression"), and so on. What exactly does this mean? How in particular do Jah Bones and the other Rastas interviewed use Rasta concepts in daily life? Clearly, viewers who are already Rastas will know, but if you're not, you'll tire of all the aphorisms really quickly. The spoken-word segments by other Rasta poets are even more unfathomable—when they're not incomprehensible they're hopelessly dated, relying on potshots at Margaret Thatcher and P.W. Botha (remember him?). Even the supposedly historical second film isn't as valuable as it could have been, since Jah Bones drops names like Marcus Garvey without actually explaining what was so important about them. The Nyabingi ritual is also disappointing-billed as "mystical" and "powerful" on the disc liner notes, it's just a little circle of about six Rastas playing drums and chanting, for 36 minutes. That's even less exciting than it sounds, especially since Johnson is a dull visual stylist who shot the three films in the stodgiest way possible. Only the musical performances by the Naturalites are interesting, but these are heavily edited and incomplete.

The disc's technical aspects are even less flattering. The full-screen transfer is washed out, looking mostly gray and murky. Yes, the three films are twenty years old, but they still shouldn't look this bad. The stereo mix is acceptable enough. There are no extras at all, even to explain any of the references and slang terms that are dropped endlessly.

One Love, then, is simply of little value. This could have been an interesting look at what life in a little-known culture is like, but Johnson botched the job badly. Despite what it sets out to do, you won't understand any more about the Rasta religion after watching it than you did before. Only devout Rastas will understand all the platitudes and references, but everyone else will simply be put off and baffled. Anyone curious about Rastafarian culture can find better references elsewhere (see Accomplices section).

The Verdict

Guilty of being too impenetrable to almost everyone.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: MVD Visual
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary
• Performance
• Religious and Spiritual

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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