Review: 'Up from the Streets' celebrates sound of New Orleans

Infectious doc looks at the Crescent City and its unique sound

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

New Orleans is music, and "Up from the Streets" celebrates the New Orleans sound by examining it from its beginnings to today.

That's an admittedly gargantuan task, and writer-director Michael Murphy has enough material to fill a Netflix series or a volume of encyclopedias.

Terence Blanchard in "Up From the Streets."

It's all crammed into this 104-minute documentary, which is like a dusty old bookstore with books not so much organized but stacked high to the ceiling. There's a lot there and it's hard to get to it all, and there's always something else to reach for and flip through.    

"Up from the Streets" isn't the first documentary about New Orleans music and it won't be the last. Director Murphy would have been wise to fix his focus on any of the numerous chapters within the doc — the first Jazz Fest after Hurricane Katrina, for example — and made that his subject, but instead he goes the scattershot route, following the music's French, African, Cuban and Native American roots and tracing it through jazz, blues, gospel, rock and roll, funk and hip-hop.  

He captures a group of talking heads — Robert Plant, Wynton Marsalis, Sting and Keith Richards among them — who do their best to describe the sound and feel of New Orleans and what gives the music its distinct flavor. It's a bit like describing a color.

And so the subjects tend to hyperbolize, and everyone and everything is described as essential. Which, yes. "Up from the Streets" is clearly in love with its subject and wants everyone to feel that love as well. If only it had as much rhythm as the city that inspired it.


'Up From the Streets' 


Not rated

Running time: 104 minutes

Available through Detroit Film Theatre's Virtual Cinema