As they say... it never went away - it just dips in and out and in and out. What the hell am I writing about? Ska. That quick, horn drenched sound many people relate with the '90s. And it is the nineties! For me anyhow. On the off chance someone mentions Ska, I'm instantly transported back to my late teens, early twenties. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It's not just about memory - it's about a feeling. Probably more about a feeling than anything else. My youth was a time when anything was possible, and I would look at folks my current age and think - that will never be me. I was wrong but oh the memories...
"Pick It Up! - Ska In The '90s" zeroes in on the Ska phenomenon from mainstream inception, to it's seemingly, just as quick demise. Actually, Taylor Morden's documentary starts well before the mainstream blitz. Giving us some origins and history of the style. Then, much as you expect, we get insights from various artists - AKA industry insiders of the time, talking about the rise and fall of the genre. Or, perhaps, more interestingly, we get some hopeful commentary discussing how Ska really isn't dead. It's just reinserted itself into the background, underground scenes. Do I personally believe that? Of course I do - and this film solidifies the reasons why I believe it. Let me explain.
As Morden's film illustrates beautifully, Ska is just as much about a feeling as it is the song itself. This isn't a style that literally materialized one day. It slowly rose in popularity through shows and compilation CD's. Slowly getting bigger and bigger until the industry big-wigs took notice. This doesn't really happen, unless there is a reason for the record labels to care. But before Ska was mainstream - it was a thriving community. A big one. Enough people considered it their music, for it to grow. When Ska seemingly vanished from the airwaves, that didn't mean it was dead. It simply went back to it's true home. The background. The underground. This is all hinted at, and outright discussed in the film. Sure. It slowed down for a while, but it really is on the rise again - and in order for something to be on the rise - it usually means it never really left.
Again, this isn't just hopeful me wishing for a come-back of the genre - the film itself points this out in various ways. There's a new generation that are listening to Ska influenced music, and outright Ska, and having a great old time. Much as I did many years ago. It's new and somewhat fresh for them - and introducing more and more people to the classics. Would it surprise you to know that overseas, Ska is still a pretty big deal? Again, this is also discussed later on in this film. The bottom line? Whatever you do know about Ska is here. A refresher... if you will. A lot of stuff you probably don't know is also here - obviously - what good would a documentary be if you already knew everything. But most importantly? I got a lot of that same feeling and vibe, watching this film, as I did back in the day listening to the music. Maybe it's the inspiring soundtrack and background scoring? Probably. For me however, there's only one really important thing left to write... I really enjoyed this film.
I know that part of my love for this movie are the memories it brings. There's a huge market for '90s, early 2000's era nostalgia titles. I'm betting Taylor Morden knows this as well. That however, doesn't mean the film isn't technically good. In fact - this is a great film production-wise. Great audio and video, excellent animations and loads of interviews and information - all packed into a reasonable length. Sometimes a documentary can feel long and winded - but not here. The length, content, and pacing all feel pretty spot on. Not overly short or long - but just right. If you're looking for a well done documentary you really can't go wrong with this one.
Now here's the thing. "Pick It Up! - Ska In The '90s" is geared to those of us who remember. And perhaps to anyone just finding the genre, looking for more information and bands to check out. For them, this film could be considered the modern version of the printed zine's or compilation discs from back in the day. For now anyway, anyone not in the know, may have little use for this film. With that said, Morden's piece would have little trouble holding a new viewers eyes and ears - if they happened to stumble upon it. Much like what this movie is all about, "Pick It Up!" may be forced to live just beneath the mainstream for a while. But not so much that it can't/won't be a success. As I said, there are lots of people like me who will eat this thing up.
As the fat lady sings on this meager review, I want to close like this. I had to resist the initial urge to rate this film a four and a half - or higher rating. It simply wouldn't feel right, considering the nostalgic elements it surfaced for me personally. "Pick It Up! - Ska In The '90s" hit all the right notes in my books, but probably not for anyone who wasn't growing up back then. From a purely technical standpoint however, a four star review is deserved. Basing that rating on the polish of the movie, and what I think will be it's ability to hold audience attention - if given the chance - a four star rating is definitely deserved. As I wrote above - loved the film. No question.