Of course, this disillusion is rooted in the systemic oppression of anyone outside the majority. Produced by Ryan Coogler, director Peter Nicks’ documentary “Anthem” follows composer Kris Bowers (“Brigerton,” “Green Book”) and producer D.J. Dahi (“Self Care” by Mac Miller, “Money Trees” by Kendrick Lamar) as they trek across America, looking to reinvent the anthem.
The documentary takes the format of a road film as Dahi and Bowers travel to American genre centers like Nashville, Detroit, and the Bay Area, meeting with musicians and discussing their love for the art form. All of these individuals perform and relay the histories, importance, and qualities of their genres. Across all groups, the sentiment is the same: music is love, music brings people together, and the anthem doesn’t truly accomplish either.
As they travel the country interviewing a breadth of artists, every interaction is marked by a bothersome sense of artifice. There’s a lack of genuine chemistry within the conversations, and it feels more like checking boxes than thoughtfully engaging with the subjects. Dahi and Bowers also lack chemistry and rapport, feeling like two talented students stuck together for a group project.
The camera is always strongly felt by the people in front of the lens, leading to a rigidity that takes the emotion out of the sentiment. It renders these conversations as educational spiels instead of empathetic discussions. The value of what is being said is undeniable, but in a documentary that’s thesis is rooted in empathy and unity, there’s a counterintuitive emotional distance between the subjects that translates even further through the screen.
“Anthem”‘s format is equally formulaic. Dahi and Bowers drive to a city, listen to their subjects play, and then interview them. This repeats itself throughout the documentary, and while it works to get all the information outlined, it’s fatiguing. Perhaps these downfalls result from the film’s ambition, tracking a transnational exploration of music, interviewing figures in the community, and crafting a song to end it all. It’s a lot of information to crush into 98 minutes, and while a longer documentary was a feasible solution, the lack of communion between the subjects is a trickier fix.