• Finding Joseph I - The HR From Bad Brains Documentary

    Released By: MVD Visual
    Released On: November 13, 2017.
    Director: James Lathos
    Cast: Paul HR Hudson, Earl Hudson, James Drescher, Toby Morse, Ian MacKaye, Vernon Reid
    Year: 2016
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    The Film:

    Allegedly "Banned in DC", Washington's all-Black punk rock band Bad Brains, led by the insanely energetic Paul "HR" Hudson, took their brand of hardcore to New York City where they found a home at legendary clubs such as CBGB and A7. Their first cassette release, featuring such classics as Pay To Cum and Attitude would count as one of hardcore's defining recorded moments, shining a spotlight on the group and setting the stage for what should have been a long and successful career. However, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Bad Brains would spend the next three-plus decades riding a wave of insecurity and inconsistency, largely due to the unexplainable actions of their notorious frontman. Still, despite their fairly spotty record, it's impossible to ignore the legacy of the group, which lives on in the countless bands that they've inspired and a handful of genius recordings that outshine the more questionable ones.

    Author James Lathos, who is also partially responsible for the book Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of HR from Bad Brains, attempts to decipher the mystery that is known as HR in this, his debut film. Starting at the beginning, literally, Lathos allows HR to describe his first years, born in 1956, the subsequent relocation of his family from the States to Jamaica, then back to the southern states, then up to DC...a lifestyle that would most certainly confuse a child of his age. His brother and bandmate, Earl, fills in a few other details such as the family's move to Waikiki and their involvement in the early stages of the skateboard scene, as well as their interest in surfing. The brothers' involvement in music is also mentioned, being encouraged by their father to take up the ukulele and drums, performing nightly for their parents.

    The Senior Hudson also provided another cornerstone in his son's musical legacy by introducing them to Napoleon Hill's mental self-help book, "Think and Grow Rich". Taking the concept of Positive Mental Attitude and mixing it with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide upon their move back to Washington, the brothers left their dabblings with progressive jazz behind once they were introduced to The Dead Boys, joining up with Dr. Know and Darryl Jennifer to play punk rock exclusively. The previously mentioned move to New York City and the debut cassette established the band as legends, and another album with Producer Ric Ocasek, Rock For Light, showed a band on a steadily inclining trajectory. A deal with Elektra records should have followed, but HR, already showing evidence of multiple personalities and paranoid behaviour, quashed that deal by intimidating the A&R rep. Despite his commitment to the seemingly peaceful religion of Rastafarianism and copious amounts of marijuana, HR became more and more unstable, eventually splitting from Bad Brains and heading back to DC with Earl to dedicate his musical talents to a more Rasta-influenced sound. But with success still eluding him, HR returned to Bad Brains for the I Against I recording sessions; though a recent arrest in an alleged drug conspiracy meant that some of his vocals had to be recorded over the phone from the prison.

    Finding Joseph I is full of near shots at success like these, seemingly always kicked in the face by HR's erratic behaviour and lack of commitment to playing punk rock. Even a chance at a successful solo career, backed by top reggae musicians is thwarted by the frontman's inability to perform, sometimes standing prone onstage while acknowledging something that others can not see or hear. What should have been a return to form, in which Guy Oseary from Maverick Records signed the group who then went on to open for the wildly successful Beastie Boys on 1994's Ill Communication tour went south when HR became violent with a number of people including a fan, and it seemed that the world would never witness a functioning Bad Brains lineup again. Thankfully, the finale of the film introduces us to HR's wife Lori, a woman with a good heart who finally convinced her husband that the voices he heard and the hallucinations he saw were signs of mental illness, urging HR to get himself the professional help required; and allowing the talented singer to once again become the stellar performer he had been.

    Utilizing a number of different video and photo footage sources, including Hudson family home movies, Lathos has put together a comprehensive look at HR's early life, and the successes and trials that occurred during various stages of the band. Of course, no documentary on such an influential figure would be complete without commentary from his peers, and we get John Joseph from Cro-Mags, Ian MacKaye from Minor Threat, Jimmy "Gestapo" Drescher from Murphy's Law, Toby Morse from H20 and loads of others, including past and current members of Bad Brains and HR's other musical partners. The ugly side here, aside from a few interviews that seem to carefully discuss HR's mental illness, is presented starkly courtesy of HR himself, appearing on camcorder tapes he recorded of himself during some very uncomfortable moments. Though the film does get a little repetitive in this department, these are the moments that linger after the credits roll; a video portrait of a man clearly not in control of his thoughts. Lathos makes a decision here to let the clips and the interviews do the talking for him, not outright stating anything, and letting the viewer take it in for themselves, which may or may not work for you, but is compelling nonetheless.

    In addition to the footage, the colourful cast of characters, and some neat animations and titles, a fantastic soundtrack, including some very cool original music helps Finding Joseph I find its mark as nicely made, professional product that can be enjoyed for it's aesthetic as well as it's subject matter.


    MVD brings Finding Joseph I to DVD with an anamorphic 1.78:1 (for the most part) transfer that again, looks pretty good for the most part, though the wide assortment of footage, both somewhat recent and downright vintage, provides a mixed bag as far as video quality. However, the picture is more than adequate for the most part, with a lack of interlacing or other artifacts that sometimes plague DVDs.

    Audio is handled via Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 tracks, and while both are fine, the 5.1 opens up the soundfield nicely, with tastefully used surrounds to provide atmosphere. Again, given the varying quality of the footage used, this film can sound not so great, but that's certainly not the fault of the transfer. Some of the talking head interviews get into distortion territory occasionally due to mic placement or whatever, but this is overall a pleasant audio excursion.

    There are no extras provided.

    The Final Word:

    Finding Joseph I is a somewhat thought-provoking look at the legendary front man, providing a little insight into the mental struggles that are most likely responsible for HR's inconsistent behaviour in life, and features some great vintage footage of the Bad Brains in action....but I was slightly disappointed and wanting for more when the credits rolled, feeling that Lathos offered a brief glimpse into the subject but didn't let the viewer fully in.