This expressive documentary about Soundcloud rappers living in the desert may feel pointless to some, but there’s real emotion hidden behind all the weed smoke.
The blurred lines between real life and performance in the internet age have become an increasingly potent topic to investigate. It’s no secret that the people you see on Twitter and Instagram aren’t real, at least not fully. They’re modified, reshaped versions of people; everyone constructs themself specifically for how they want to be seen, mostly regardless of any online following. This idea is extrapolated in Marnie Ellen Hertzler’s reality-bending Soundcloud rapper documentary Crestone.
Watching the movie without any prior knowledge, I honestly had a hard time discerning whether or not this was a legitimate documentary, or rather an experimental pseudo-doc. As it turns out, it’s a little bit of both. The groundwork here is assuredly very real: Hertzler really did go out into the Colorado desert to film her grade-school friends who have become rappers living together in isolation from the rest of the world while making music, getting high, and embracing nature. However, much of the everydayness of the group that is depicted is punctuated by flourishes of fantasy and daydreams. When one of the rappers, who goes by the name highmynamesryan, lays down a track, the film subtly shifts into the mode of a music video as it cuts between Ryan at the mic and swaying around in the nighttime as streaks of neon lights whirl around him.
Moments like these find the film at it’s most simply graceful and evocative. At one point wildfires start closing in on the group raising tensions while Hertzler inserts visions of the flames taking over the desert and the mountains as she narrates about what it would be like if they were experiencing the end of the world. The film’s final moments invoke a very real sense of transience in the face of the end while suggesting that immortality might be best served by being granted to people who are so able to adapt themselves to the world no matter where they choose to establish their residence. Crestone carries such a genuine empathy for this group of weirdos living in their rundown little village that it’s hard not to take the film’s side.
That said, a lot of this will be a slow march to the end for some viewers. The film doesn’t even reach the 80-minute mark, but large swaths of this involve watching rappers that go by such names as Champloo Sloppy, Sadboyrapps, and Huckleberry lay around their dirty house, read off bars from their phones, run around in the desert sand, and pontificate about asinine thought experiments — some true “The Biggest Flex Anyone Will Ever Have is Dying” makes-you-think type stuff.
It’s all absurd but it feels intentional; Hertzler knows how these guys are gonna seem to the average viewer, but it doesn’t stop her from documenting their reality as any less sincere. Plenty of it plays with a knowing wink but doesn’t delegitimize the subjects as people, and crafts a greater vision of a generation that has grown up online and how the divide between our lives on the internet and in real life has created an emotional and societal drift between ourselves and others. The residents of Crestone are simply the products of an oppressive world that was built up around them, both physically and electronically.
This review was filed from SXSW 2020. Check out all of our remote coverage from the festival.
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