The Mighty Uke DVD Review

I expect a fair few of you have seen Mighty Uke already. They’ve been touring the film around and it’s been shown at a number of festivals. As a matter of fact, they are planning a tour of the UK later this year so if you’d like to host them at your uke group send them a message here.

For those of you not familiar with it. Mighty Uke is a documentary charting the history of the ukulele and the current uke boom. It has interviews with Jake, Shimabukuro, James Hill, John King, Dent May among many others.

The DVD is released this month and Tony Coleman (half of the team behind it with Margaret Meagher) was kind enough to send me a copy for review.

The Good Stuff

An enjoyable watch: It’s a very pleasant way to spend 79 minutes. There’s plenty of good music, lovely archive footage, and lots of ukulele friends (and one enemy). By the end of the film I was dying to pick up my ukulele and get playing. Definitely well worth a watch for anyone interested in the ukulele.

The Shorts: Easily my favourite part of the DVD. There are ten little segments of between one and a half and ten minutes each focusing one group or individual (and one on Martin ukuleles). Outside of the film – where people have to fit into the narrative – you get a much clearer sense of individual personalities and motivations. So Taimane loves being centre of attention, Steven Sproat sits alone under a tree wanting to show the bigger boys that the ukulele could be as cool as Nazareth and Pink Floyd, The Langley Ukulele Ensemble are pulled from their beds and marched single file at great speed whilst spraying notes everywhere.

To get a flavour of these, you can watch John King short here.

Quoteables: There are lots of little nuggets in the film (many of which I intend to steal). My favourite comes from Aaron Keim: “No one ever failed the audition for the ukulele band then quit.”

The Not So Good Stuff

The Inter-what?: It’s a little unfair to criticize films like this for what they leave out. It can’t just be a long list of everyone who has ever played the ukulele. It’s an independent film so there’s not enough money for IZ’s music and it’s quite focused on North America. And some people just don’t want to take part (the UOGB declined). The fact that it isn’t comprehensive doesn’t diminish it at all. Except…

How you could possibly cover the current ukulele boom without a single mention of the internet? I realise I’m completely biased in this respect, but to my eyes the internet has played such a huge part in the spread of the ukulele that it’s impossible to ignore. If you think I’m too deep into this to recognise the truth that no one cares about the net, let me know in the comments.

One big happy family: The film’s central theme is that the ukulele brings people together and players love strumming in a big circle and all ukulele players are happy and well adjusted and if everyone played the ukulele there wouldn’t be any war and… OH MY GOD I WANT TO PUNCH SOMEONE IN THE FACE!

I’m a maladjusted, loner, bell-end and that doesn’t stop me playing the ukulele. Sometimes all this group-hugging makes me want to go back to playing the guitar where it’s acceptable, even encouraged, to roll with the badass-outsider/reclusive-genius image.

Overall

Mighty Uke is a very enjoyable film. If it’s rolling through your town, definitely go see it.

As for shelling out $30 for the DVD (or $35 for international orders), I’m a little more circumspect. It didn’t inspire me enough to warrant repeat viewings. But if you have uke-ignorant family and friends that you want to lay some knowledge on, get a copy and show it round. There’s no better way to introduce non-ukers to the ukulele world than watching Mighty Uke. And by the end they’ll want to play themselves.

The Mighty Uke is released on DVD on 28th September. You can pre-order your copy here. The Mighty Uke team are planning a tour of the UK later this year so if you’d like to host them at your uke group shoot them a message here.

View Comments

28 Comments

  1. Jim D'Ville September 1st, 2010 8:07 pm

    Al, You must have attended honesty camp when you were a kid. You never pull any punches. I like that.

  2. Woodshed September 1st, 2010 8:23 pm

    Jim: Ha ha ha. Yeah, it doesn’t win me any friends.

    I don’t think there’s any point writing reviews unless you’re honest. And people are always able to point out why I’m full of crap.

  3. pinkukelelegirl, September 1st, 2010 8:57 pm

    my ukelele is pink, with ribbon and stickers… but it doesn’t stop people believing me when i say im going to hit them. :L

  4. Ron Hale September 1st, 2010 10:27 pm

    Another maladjusted, loner uker here, and I suspect there are plenty more of us. We simply have (or had) lots of free time to hunch over our fretboards and plot our schemes to get back at the well-adjusted (boring) normal types who marginalize(d) us. Take a close look at the big-names in the ukulele world and try to convince me that they are all perfectly normal (no, don’t even try). Even a cursory run through YouTube will put paid to the notion of the well-adjusted ukulele player.

    The importance of the internet cannot be overstated, neither can it be ignored without raising serious doubts about the decisions of the film makers. Yes, those of us who spend unholy and unhealty amounts of time online in the furtherance of our uke habits may be biased in the matter, but just the following example will be instructive: Virtually every day on YouTube you can come upon people who claim to have been playing for a few days or weeks who post videos of themselves, and the fact that they cannot play does not in any way, shape, or form, inhibit them. They bought their ukes precisely to make videos and post them for all the world to see. No internet, no them, it’s that simple. No internet, no Jake, or countless others bringing so many new players to the Altar of Ukulele. And no Jake, no six-month olds posting videos of their latest Jake covers.

    Well, there’s Ukuleles For Peace, of course, and we all know Jake’s take on that. But there’s no denying that there are lots of ukers who do enjoy
    sitting in a big circle playing songs together and having fun whether it be in a pub, a clubhouse, or out of doors, though lone wolf players may cringe at the very thought of all that gaiety.

    It matters not at all if artists decline to participate in the documentary because The Mighty Uke is not really about them, it’s about the rest of us.

  5. milko September 1st, 2010 11:14 pm

    Ah, lovely post. A review one can trust! I would join a campaign to get ukuleles recognised as also an instrument of the grumpy man, but I’m too antisocial ;-)

  6. Lyndsey September 1st, 2010 11:15 pm

    ^^^^^
    Calling all loner ukulele players? Yep that’d be me! However, I will admit the thought of playing the ukulele in a circle(well maybe a square or a hexagon or anything other than a circle) of people with the same hobby as I have doesn’t sound too terrible to me.
    ………………….
    You’re definately not wrong about the internet being an important part of the ukulele spread. This site is honestly the only reason I even know how to play a chord on the uke.

  7. milko September 1st, 2010 11:16 pm

    (PS – I tried for some minutes to come up with a good name for such a group and got as far as ‘Campaign for Ukuleles…’ anyone want to fill in with the N and T? I will join if we have a good acronym.)

  8. Howlin' Hobbit September 2nd, 2010 12:00 am

    I have a wee spot of trouble with the whole “one big happy family” schtick myself.

    But I’ve broken my hand once and couldn’t play music for weeks, so I rarely contemplate smacking someone in the puss about it.

  9. Emily September 2nd, 2010 8:12 am

    You’re just a lonely loner on a lonely road…

    Very nice review. I’m not likely to watch it but I’m glad someone did.

  10. Tony Boland September 2nd, 2010 8:47 am

    Yep Al,
    The world wide spread of the renewed popularity and interest in the uke as an instrument is definitely down to the “NET”. The fact that you can see ukers from anywhere in the world playing their ukes on your computer and the discussions on “which uke to buy & which strings are best” (not to mention the online skirmishes and tiffs) have all served to develop peoples instruments.
    Also the significant upgrading of reasonably priced ukes by companies like Kala, Ohana, Mainland etc have also meant that you can buy a quality instrument without having to take out a mortgage!

    There is room for players of all types and as far as I am concerned, all are valid, whether you are a solitary uker or are lucky enough to be a member of a group of ukers who gather on a regular basis to play together. You don’t have to be one or the other!

    Long live the uke and ukeplayers!

  11. Phredd September 2nd, 2010 11:12 am

    I was able to view The Mighty Uke movie at a cool old theatre in Philadelphia. Tony and Margaret were there, as was James Hill and the Uke Orchestra of Philly. Fun, strange times. As far as the omittance of the internet, I figure it this way; I read a reclusive genius’ uke blog everyday, so I know it’s significance!

  12. Shaun September 2nd, 2010 12:01 pm

    “The film’s central theme is that the ukulele brings people together and players love strumming in a big circle and all ukulele players are happy and well adjusted and if everyone played the ukulele there wouldn’t be any war and… OH MY GOD I WANT TO PUNCH SOMEONE IN THE FACE!”

    Al, please keep speaking your mind! We all love your honesty. It’s refreshing when someone can say what they truly think. I have actually experienced ‘wars’ in ukulele groups… so I’m not sure how true that central theme is anyway :)

    p.s. The internet revolution was definitely understated but overall an awesome film!

  13. Acilius September 2nd, 2010 1:34 pm

    Thanks for the review, Al! I’ve ordered the DVD.

  14. Jim Bouchard September 2nd, 2010 1:59 pm

    I saw the movie and loved it. The DVD has a bunch of extras, and I also want to show it to my non-ukulele playing friends that don’t understand the allure of the ukulele for me, so I ordered it. I suppose highlighting the importance of the internet in the spread of the ukulele might just be like saying “the sky is indeed blue”; not exactly revelatory. It’s been a couple months since I saw it but I could have sworn there were solo uke performers highlighted in the movie, mixed in with the group performances. My main disappointment with the movie was that it was too short and did leave out a lot of innovative ukulele music, but hey, other people might think it’s too long…you can’t win ‘em all!

  15. zym September 2nd, 2010 3:42 pm

    If you like Al, i’ll invite them to HUG then punch them in the throat?

  16. melissa September 2nd, 2010 4:31 pm

    I walked out of the movie feeling the same way you did — there were too many famous, infamous, and unknown uke players left out. And where the hell was UkeHunt!?!? But overall, the movie made me happy. In real life, I’m a loner, but in my little corner of UkeWorld, I’m grinning, strummng and singing happily along with lots of others.

  17. Woodshed September 2nd, 2010 5:45 pm

    pinkukelelegirl: I believe you (please don’t hit me).

    Ron: Damn, I wish I had thought of that last sentence.

    milko: Thanks.

    Lyndsey: Even the idea of it doesn’t appeal to me beyond sound like something I SHOULD want to do.

    Hobbit: Fingers should be used to make love not war.

    Emily: Thanks.

    Tony: I think you’re right about the importance of the ukulele makers. Definitely got China to thank.

    Phredd: Ha ha ha. Thanks.

    Shaun: I don’t think I could do anything other than state my mind. I don’t have the necessary brain power for anything else.

    Acilius: I’m looking forward to your review already (I expect it’ll blow mine out the water).

    Jim: Yes, there are solo performers (only Jake springs to mind but I’m sure there were more). But that’s not exactly my point. More that ukulele were said to all be happy, friendly, peace-loving folks. Which you can be and still play solo.

    zym: That’s so sweet of you.

    melissa: I should probably clarify since we don’t feel the same way on any of those. Particularly, my complaint with the internet being ignored was code for, “I should have been in this movie.” This site is very much geared towards people who already play ukulele, so I claim no role in making it more popular.

  18. Peter September 2nd, 2010 7:18 pm

    I love the Mighty Uke, for what it’s worth. I think they would have covered the internet somewhat appreciably if they had at least an interview with Julia Nunes. I asked them why she wasn’t in the movie, and the answer I got was that she couldn’t make time for an interview due to touring/scheduling.

    It’s still amazing, though. The tearful Langley kids after their last performance? Heartrwenching.

  19. Lyndsey September 2nd, 2010 9:59 pm

    I felt obligated to say that I think it is AMAZING how you actually respond to most all of the comments you get on this site because GOOD!NESS! Look at that long list of responses you made!
    Just thought you should know.
    Alright, glad I got that off my chest.
    :)

  20. Woodshed September 3rd, 2010 10:36 pm

    Peter: I don’t think it would have had to be Julia Nunes. Or even anyone famous. Just some mention of it.

    Lyndsey: Thanks very much. It’s very kind of you. I just think if someone has taken the time to comment the least I can do is respond.

  21. Tony Coleman September 8th, 2010 12:53 pm

    Thanks Woodshed for taking the time to watch and review MIGHTY UKE.
    You mentioned that you were dissappointed to discover no mention of the internet in the film. But in the extra features Bosko, of Bosko & Honey, explains how the internet helped them launch a world tour, “the unique combination of the internet and the ukulele makes the world a much smaller place”
    We don’t go into great detail about this because what the internet has done for the ukulele, it has also done for many previously fringe hobbies and passions.
    What is unique about this ukulele revival is that, unlike any other harmonic instrument, amateur musicians are gathering together in growing numbers, all playing the same instrument in unison.
    For Margaret and me, making this film has been a labour of love, we have had much fun emptying our bank accounts and hope that those like-minded and passionate about community based music-making will help spread the word about our film.
    Cheers
    Tony Coleman
    Director – MIGHTY UKE
    Tiny Goat Films Ltd.

  22. Woodshed September 14th, 2010 11:39 am

    Tony: I don’t really agree that the net doesn’t merit a mention (in the film itself) because it’s done the same for many niche hobbies. It’s like writing a history of the cotton industry but leaving out the industrial revolution because that changed every business.

  23. L.bo Marie September 20th, 2010 3:27 pm

    The film came to the city nearby for a second time this weekend… and for a second time I missed it. So sad!
    Maybe next time- I’m not much one for purchasing copies of films.

  24. Woodshed September 20th, 2010 10:02 pm

    L.Bo Marie: I have a very limited number of films on DVD as well. There aren’t that many that can stand repeated viewing for me.

  25. pam October 2nd, 2010 6:28 pm

    I’m big on the group hug, but not to the exclusion of maladjusted loaners having their own take on the uke. So there’s that. Don’t worry, I won’t try to hug you.

    My issue with the film was that there was too much Langley and not enough Other Stuff. It was like they wanted to make a movie about Langely, but not exclude other ukesters (group and solo) and ended up with a kind of nod to the other. I viewed it as Langley Langley Langley oh wait there’s this other thing, now, how about some more Langley?

    That said, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It’s a happy little movie and it’s about the freakin’ ukulele, which I love. Plus, when I saw it, it came with James Hill and one of those Canote brothers (sorry, guys, I get you mixed up) and live music in a tiny theater and it was really fun to watch in such a small group of ukulele huggers.

  26. Woodshed October 2nd, 2010 11:08 pm

    pam: I do agree there’s more Langley than I care for, but I would say there’s much more than a nod to others. And I can see why they focussed on Langley. It gives them a story with a beginning, middle and end. Their story has a neat narrative you can hang a film on, whereas most of the people featured don’t.

    And let the record show I very much like hugs.

  27. Alli October 16th, 2011 9:33 pm

    I saw the film last night at it’s premiere European showing for this tour, in my hometown of Sudbury, Suffolk. It was really lovely. It’s quite simply a sweet documentary about a sweet instrument, and the fact that it was a labour of love for Margaret and Tony really shines through.

    No James Hill (he’s coming to later dates and I fully intend to make one of those showings) but us Toots did the best we could and we were joined by Rufus Yells and Nick Browning on stage for an eclectic mix of tunes.

    The audience loved the whole evening – there were about 25% uke players, a handful of uke widows/widowers and the rest were non-players. The little theatre was just about sold out. All seemed to really enjoy the film.

    I think that the internet side of things could sit very nicely in a Mighty Uke Part 2!

  28. Shireen November 26th, 2011 11:28 am

    I saw this movie last night at a cinema in Hackney. Afterwards James Hill put on a mini performance and sing along. A really good evening.

    I deliberately did not read the reviews before going to see the film. I have to say, it never occurred to me that “the internet was omitted”. I don’t know how to say this any other way: if I wanted detailed facts, comprehensiveness, I look at Wikipedia or on the internet. This movie, for me, is about the human side (something you CAN’T always convey easily in text).

    After the movie was over Tony answered several questions about omissions (and other things). I think we all know about licensing … it can be really expensive to get even 10 second clips licensed.

    Also – I found the whole school & educational aspect in Canada to be interesting. Loved the animations ~ thought they were spot on.

    Alli, totally agree with your first para.

    There are only 30 or so films that merit seeing more than once (eg Pulp Fiction). But, I will certainly encourage my friends to see it (which is why I bought a copy). And, as they said, there are 8 further clips on the DVD.

    By the way, it is complete coincidence that my site (www.mightyukulele.co.uk) shares a similar name to the movie. We are unrelated.

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