My grandfather’s name was Willie Laurendine, but we called him Paw Paw. He was a bus driver for the city of New Orleans. In Ghana, there is a style of music played by a union of bus and truck drivers known as Por Por, which is pronounced Paw Paw. This music is only performed by them at the funerals of fellow workers — funerals that share similarities with the jazz funerals of New Orleans.
Despite this almost Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon style connection I had with “A Por Por Funeral for Ashirifie”, there was little else for me to latch on to.
It’s not the fault of the subject matter — a variation of a jazz funeral, performed with antique car horns and played exclusively by an African driver’s union — which I was excited to learn more about; it was the presentation. There is no attempt to tell the audience about the history of this music, its importance in the area, or even who Nelson Ashirifie Mensah (this was his funeral) was as a person. We are only treated to what has to be at least 45 minutes of nonstop horn honking and street dancing (the movie is just under an hour) and a few title cards that describe the upcoming action. That’s it. Were they just dead set on making this almost feature length?
I know it’s easy to just point your one camera and shoot, but if you’re making a documentary about a little known subject, you HAVE to give the audience some information outside of a few words on a screen; interviews, historical archive materials, narration and editing are all helpful tools. Most audiences aren’t interested in the raw footage of a trip you once took.
The Por Por music reminded me of the wonderful intrusiveness of the whistle tip craze (google it); both are loud and proud. When a member of this union dies, the whole town knows, and — at least for the rest of the day — the noise will not let anyone forget. That I like.
The filmmakers are coming to New Orleans on March 23 to screen the film, and will be accompanied by a live demonstration and panel discussion. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about this unique culture. I guarantee it’ll be more informative than the movie itself.
Originally published at billreviewsfilm.blogspot.com on March 19, 2012.