7/10/06 Portrait of a Subculture - DVD review (Revisited 9/3/06)

9/3/06 - REVISITED
I still haven't seen this documentary which apparently has been out since the end of August. You can order a copy of the DVD through Amazon. If you've seen it, please leave a comment and get us all a quick review!


7/10/06 - DVD DOCUMENTARY -Dreadheads: Portrait of a Subculture

I reprinted two reviews on the upcoming documentary. The street release date is Aug 29 however you can order the DVD online at Mutantgirlfilms.com.
I haven't seen it yet but apparently have a Widespread Panic interview featuring John Bell and Dave Schools.

Dreadheads: Portrait of a Subculture
By Cheryl Cheng

There are several assumptions one might have upon encountering someone with dreadlocks, aka a "dreadhead": They enjoy such bands as Phish and The Grateful Dead, often smoke joints and live a hippie, bohemian lifestyle lacking gainful employment. Dreadheads does nothing to dispel these stereotypes, as most of the people interviewed fit one, if not all, characteristics, but this documentary does give viewers a better understanding of a subculture that is unified by a particular hairstyle. As to why dreadheads style their hair this way, some cite laziness ("I just didn't brush it"), others explain that it's their "power source," describing an aura of energy that exists in their hair, and still others are less astute ("Your hair is what it is. It's not a style. It's not anything. It's what it is."). Filmmakers Hurlburt and Holmes provide some answers of their own, linking dreadlocks to religious origins and the Rastafarian culture up to the modern-day generation of dreadheads, who form communities across the country. Greater focus is given to some interviewees over others, such as the psychedelic artist who lost her soul mate to drugs or the woman who travels with 22 people and 12 dogs in a converted MTA bus. For those who live in cramped buses or other such unhygienic conditions, there is a segment about generic bar soap as a method to combat dreadheads' common experience with head lice. The documentary also features insightful interviews with The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, Widespread Panic's Dave Schools and John Bell and The Dead's Jimmy Herring as well as sociologists who compare dreadheads to other such fringe groups as circus freaks and the Beat poets of the '50s. Dreadheads is an interesting look at a subculture that should even find renters among those who crop their locks regularly.

Color, NR (mature themes), 77 min., DVD $19.98
DVD: outtakes, interview, video montage
Street: Aug. 29, Prebook: now
First Run: DVD premiere
Directors: Steven R. Hurlburt, Flournoy Holmes


Review by Randy Miller III

Every so often, I sometimes wonder how certain screeners find their way into my lap. I'm a fan of documentaries off the beaten path---which are slowly becoming the norm on DVD, if you haven't noticed---so I assume that's how I got paired up with Steven R. Hurlburt's Dreadheads, an entertaining little film about dreadlocks and the folks that wear 'em. As a thinly-haired man regularly self-shorn by Gillette's latest eight-bladed razor, I'm near the opposite end of the visual spectrum---but as the back cover for Dreadheads emphasizes, you don't have to be part of the subculture to enjoy what's been assembled here.

So what is assembled here? Essentially, Dreadheads gives us a brief overview of the hairstyle's history, casually interlaced with participation from regular (and not-so-regular) Joes who favor this unusual hairstyle. Meatier interviews are also on display here, featuring the likes of former Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, The Dead's Jimmy Herring and a few members of Widespread Panic. We also learn a bit about the "roots" of dreadlocks, evidenced by earlier connections to Rastafarian culture, religious sects, and its journey all the way to modern American society. Very few myths are dispelled along the way, especially in modern-day terms: most of the folks seen here are big fans of weed, minimal employment and other ways to whittle away free time. As long as they're not hurting anyone, right?

Here's the bottom line: even if you can't fathom a hairstyle that discourages regular washing, you should still find Dreadheads entertaining for the bulk of its brief 65-minute running time. The soundtrack, featuring music by Project Z, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Slang and Atlanta-based Spunhuny, keeps thing moving between interviews and history lessons, while the colorful visuals keep your eyes interested as well. Dreadheads isn't the year's most urgent or thought-provoking documentary, but it's an entertaining diversion that may just answer a few burning questions.

The DVD by Mutant Girl Films should be well-rounded; unfortunately, the screener copy I received doesn't represent the whole picture. Even so, it's a release that bears further investigation. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

There's room for improvement, but the 1.33:1 transfer for Dreadheads is pleasing and gets the job done. This documentary exhibits strong color with only a moderate amount of softness, grain and edge enhancement; overall, it's on par with most low-budget documentaries. The audio is presented in a standard 2.0 Stereo mix and features clear dialogue and strong music cues. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included with this release.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Unfortunately, this screener barely even came equipped with a menu screen, let alone any usable sub-menus. The 65-minute main feature has been divided into roughly half a dozen chapters, while no layer change was detected during playback. The packaging is very straightforward, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind. As always, the packaging and presentation for official copies is subject to change.

Bonus Features
No extras of any kind were included with this screener, though online advertisements promise a few bonus outtakes, interviews and the like. Unfortunately, they can't be reflected in this initial review rating---but if we get a more complete version in the near future, I'll update the ratings accordingly. Hint, hint.

Final Thoughts

It's hard to judge Dreadheads as a whole, since this bare-bones screener copy doesn't provide us with the complete picture. From what I saw, though, Steven R. Hurlburt's portrait of this unique subculture is entertaining enough, no matter if you're a "member" or not. As mentioned earlier, official copies of the DVD should offer an improved presentation and a few bonus features; with that in mind, it's a bit easier to recommend overall. For fans of interesting documentaries---and, of course, the hairstyle itself---Dreadheads is a lightweight release worth looking into. Rent It.