Morocco / Newton Aduaka / UK 1999 / 2hrs / 15
Rage follows three aspiring musicians in London who want to cut their first hip-hop record. London is a melting-pot of cultures, classes and races. Jamie, Godwin and Thomas have been friends for a long time, but tensions that have survived under the skin come to the surface as they realise that growing up is difficult in a racist society, and that they need resources to make their dream come true.
Rage is an early film by celebrated Nigerian director Newton Aduaka, made while he was living in London, and a comment on issues of racial integration and belonging in a British context.
Screened with short:
JEMIMA AND JOHNNY | Lionel Ngakane | UK 1966 | 30m
Having recently moved to London from Jamaica, little Jemima is found on the street by street-wise Johnny, a five-year-old boy from the area. He takes her on a tour of the neighborhood. Despite their parents’ worry, the film offers a refreshingly optimistic window into a pocket of 1960s London. Lionel Ngakane was one of South Africa’s pioneering and most celebrated black directors, and went into exile in Britain in the early 1950s, escaping South Africa’s apartheid regime. Jemima and Johnny, inspired by the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, was his first short film.
This screening was part of AiM’s focus on Africa’s Lost Classics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
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CLIP 1: Rage’s high energy opening introduces us to the three main characters, the urban setting, and the hip hop music and imagery of popular youth culture that permeates throughout the film.
CLIP 2: This argument between main character Jamie and his two friends reveals his identity crisis as a young mixed-race man.
CLIP 3: Jamie records his album
Rage follows three aspiring musicians in London who want to cut their first hip-hop record. An early film by celebrated Nigerian director Newton Aduaka, made while he was living in London, explores issues of racial integration from within the 90s underground hip hop and jazz music scene. Jamie, Godwin and Thomas have been friends for a long time, but buried tensions surface as they question their own identities and struggle to come up with the funds to release their music.
Newton Aduaka had early musical experience, forming a band and recording an album while he was growing up in Nigeria in the mid-80s. The country experienced constant political upheaval between various military dictatorships while soldier boys occupied schools and universities. Aduaka left Nigeria and moved to his aunt’s flat in a run-down North Peckham estate. Just four years after the Brixton riots, he found a tense atmosphere under the Thatcherite government. Aduaka ended up doing clandestine work and describes feeling ‘lost and confused’ in this period. Despite this, in 1990 he graduated from the London International Film School. He began writing screenplays and gained experience as a sound mixer, winning the best Sound award for Quartier Mozart at FESPACO ’93. Sound would become a central part of his filmmaking practice.
Aduaka feels a strong affinity with the characters: ‘For me as a director, RAGE is a very personal story which I more or less lived in the process of making the film, from writing the screenplay four years ago to now. I completely understand and sympathise with the three protagonists and their struggle.’ (Director’s notes)
Four days before Rage was scheduled to begin shooting on Monday September 7, the production lost 90% of its funding. The major backer withdrew at the last minute without giving a reason. Out of the crew of nearly 40, half had to be let go and the cameraman decided he could not continue. Ten days in, production broke down and the line producer left. The actors and crew had to invest their own money in the project for it to continue.
Rather than lose his nerve, Aduaka seems to have thrived on this pressure, ‘I felt in a very strange out of body state from where I saw and was aware of the most minute nuance of the film I was making.’ Indeed, there is a genuine rawness throughout the film which conveys the energy and frustrations of the protagonists, who, like Aduaka, are struggling to secure the funds to realize their artistic dream.
The creative process of Rage started two years before, when Aduaka began ‘hanging around the Hip hop and Jazz Jam Session scene.’ During this time, he began mapping out the plot in his head and, though he did not write anything down, he took many recordings of improvised jam sessions featuring underground rappers and musicians. This live material is combined with carefully chosen tracks from labels prominent on the scene at the time, such as Ninja Tunes, Jazz Fudge, K’boro, Hombre et al., featuring music from hip hop producer Mark B and artists such as Roots Manuva. The final element of the sound track is a live poetry scene with spoken word over break beat and jazz. This material combines to create a strong atmosphere and is the driving force of the film.
After spending years researching the music scene, Aduaka wrote the whole script in a ‘four-day fever’. The film then is a kind of reaction to the environment and seeks to channel much of the energy and raw emotion by incorporating directly recorded material into the soundtrack. The music scene is the focal point where frustrations and energies are expressed and political and social issues are addressed through rap and spoken word.
The characters’ experiences and (racial) identities are explored through their own relationship to music. The result is a range of nuanced characters, complete with ironies and inconsistencies, which allows for a sensitive and genuine examination of race and identity.
(Rage) Jamie, the protagonist, is mixed-race. He is insecure about his racial identity and is constantly trying to affirm his ‘blackness’. Still mourning the suicide of his black father, his feelings are manifest through aggressive rap and militant lyrics.
(T) Thomas is a hip-hop-obsessed white kid from a wealthy family. Uncomfortable with his identity, he tries to hide his wealth and adopts a false persona for fear he will not be taken seriously in the rap world.
(G) Godwin is the most talented musician, a black jazz pianist with aspirations to study composition at college. He has very demanding parents who have high aspirations for him though he is comfortable in his identity and remains the calmest and wisest out of the group.
Marcus is a 70-year-old Rastafarian with whom Rage develops an unlikely friendship. In scenes where Rage delivers his weed, Marcus reveals his philosophy of life and urges Rage to adopt a less aggressive approach while reggae music plays throughout.
Rage premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and then in London. It was the first independent film by a black filmmaker and crew to have a national release in the UK. Despite this, Aduaka has had difficulty securing funding for new projects and Rage has fallen into relative obscurity. Aduaka has had further success with later projects such as his feature film Ezra (2007), which won the main prize at FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, in 2007.
David Murphy, Lost in Music? Race, Culture, and Identity in Rage (Newton I. Aduaka, 2000) in Africa’s Lost Classics: New Histories of African Cinema (Legenda Moving Image) Lizelle Bisschoff & David Murphy (eds.)
(GETTING OFF THE BOAT) Directors notes / Production notes. THE MAKING OF RAGE, London January 2001
‘5 Questions for a Filmmaker–Newton I. Aduaka – Africa Is a Country.’ Accessed September 19, 2017. http://africasacountry.com/2015/01/5-questions-with-a-filmmaker-newton-i-aduaka/.