In 1979 Roger Corman wanted a disco movie, so his staff got to work on a script called “Disco High.” Two weeks before shooting, director Allan Arkush broke it to Corman that the film had been retitled Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and would star the Ramones, a punk band. “Why can’t they be disco?” Corman asked. Arkush responded, “You can’t blow up a high school to disco music.”
Since at least 1956, when Bill Haley & His Comets starred in Rock Around the Clock, the musician-centered rock drama has been one of the most versatile vehicles for pop proselytizing. There have been many tweaks to the Rock Around the Clock formula—musical genres, locales, vérité aesthetics—and Prince‘s Purple Rain might be called the blockbuster variant. In 1975 the New York Times’s Vincent Canby famously asked, “What is Jaws but a big-budget Roger Corman film,” and by the mid-80s Corman’s theatrical operation had effectively been steamrolled by Hollywood. Purple Rain is also a big-budget Corman film, but despite its unabashedly generic construction it’s also a monument to corporate film and recording industry synergy in the era of rapid conglomeration, scoring a box office hit and Oscars for the Warner Bros. studio, and 13x Platinum sales and Grammys for Warner Bros. Records—a financial and critical juggernaut.
So it’s at least patently funny that the first fiction feature ever produced in the Taureg language, which is spoken by about 1 million people in parts of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger, is nominally a no-budget remake of Purple Rain. Or sort of: there is no Taureg word for “purple,” so Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai actually translates to “rain the color of blue with a little red in it.” Constructed around the personality of naturally charismatic lead Mduo Moctar and set in the world of Taureg guitar music in Agadez, Niger—most internationally recognized for the work of Bombino [Ed. Note: since this article’s original publication in 2015, Moctar has gone on to great critical acclaim. His latest album, Afrique Victime, shares an artwork designer with the highly collectible and sought-after 2015 Screen Slate tote bag.]—Akounak gushes with pure, earnest enthusiasm for its sweded source material. Shrouded in mystery and kicking up desert sands on his purple motorcycle while riding between home recording studios and guitar parties, Moctar is a brilliant and even more likable analog to Prince’s “The Kid.” Whereas Purple Rain is premised about calculated obfuscation of ostensibly autobiographical detail, Akounak‘s filmmakers take a Rouch-lite approach to their collaboratively produced riff on social mores, religiosity, and third world distribution models.
Make no mistake: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai works as blissful, effervescent entertainment, and it’s beautifully shot and edited like a fiction film even as its DIY production and documentary ethos shine through. Like the conglomerate clockwork strategies underpinning Purple Rain, it will make you a believer and a fan.
Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughaiv shows at BAM Thursday, June 29, 2023 presented by Be Reel Black Cinema Club