Plot: What’s it about?
Paul Pena has played the music the loves for many years now, even taking the stage with such famed performers as BB King, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters, as well as many others. Pena is a very skilled blues musician and composer, but this story takes him beyond the blues and to a style of music that consumes him, almost as soon as he first hears it. After his short wave radio picked up the sound of Tuvan throat singing, he knew this was music he wanted to learn and despite the odds, he managed to teach himself the difficult skill. Pena might have been blind and a recent widow, but he wouldn’t let those factors stop him from seeking out new experiences. And when he is invited to a gathering and symposium for throat singers and the like, he makes the trek to central Asia, where he shows off his skills and also meets a lot of new friends.
This is about as special interest as special interest titles can be, but I think it will be of interest to a lot of people. I know the story doesn’t seem like it could fill a feature length time slot, but the filmmakers do a fine turn here and really bring the material to life. Now this is a documentary, so that doesn’t take too much, but the filmmakers present the events well and in an entertaining fashion also. As frequent readers know, I am not a musical person and to be honest, I wasn’t that excited about checking out Genghis Blues. But in the end, the story of Paul Pena is one that goes above and beyond music, even if that is the motivation behind this film. The music is at the base of the story to be sure, but this is also a story about a man who refuses to give in to his limits and pushes himself to attain new horizons. I think this piece will be of most interest to those who love music and stories that revolve around it, but anyone who seeks a rewarding tale of real life adventures should look into this one. I think a rental will suffice in most cases, but if you did want to buy the disc, it is well worth the asking price.
Video: How does it look?
Genghis Blues is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. This is a documentary feature, so don’t expect pristine and polished video, but I think this transfer does the material justice. The print shows a lot of grain at times and this causes a rather soft image, but that is a flaw with the source and not this transfer, so I can’t be too harsh. The colors and contrast seem on the level though, no real problems aside from the slight softness that is seen. In the end, this is a more than adequate transfer and it treats the source material very well.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included stereo track is solid, but due to the nature of the project, it doesn’t quite measure up to most stereo options. I think this is due to the film’s low budget, which meant not as good equipment was used and that lowered the overall scope of this track. But this is still a solid audio track, I just wish it was cleaner and a little more active. The vocals come off in fine form, free from hiss and distortion, while the music seems limited, but in decent enough form. The main flaws here are due to source limitations and in the end, I think track replicates the audio well enough. You can also enable English subtitles, in case you need them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes a nice audio commentary track, which features the director, his brother, and others who helped with the production. The track is filled with insight on how the events were captured, as well as the troubles of working on a very limited budget. This disc also contains some bonus concert footage, information on Paul Pena and Tuva, and an interview with the filmmakers, which has even more information about how and why the film was made.