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Moby would like to have a word

Oddball documentary lets the famed musician lead us through his life

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There are so many ways to hawk your rock doc. Concert movie, behind-the-scenes, biography, talking heads (the style, not the band), retrospective, posthumous. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like of Moby Doc, a look at the life and times of Richard Melville Hall, better known by the singular moniker Moby.

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The credits list Rob Gordon Bralver as director and co-writer, but this feels very much like Moby decided he had a few things to say, and asked his sometimes music-video maker to lend a hand. The musician and DJ (and of late animal rights activist) mostly addresses the audience directly, leading us through the chapters of his life, starting from his childhood in Harlem, which was marked by his father’s suicide. He says he learned from his parents and his pets that animals are nice and people are terrifying.

Moby says he’s a big fan of Death’s work. Death does not return the compliment

Viewers looking for deep insight into Moby’s musical style and direct creative influences may come away disappointed. But if you’re willing to follow where Moby leads you there’s much to discover, including an extended interview with friend and fan David Lynch, and a look back at the friendship and collaboration Moby had with David Bowie. There’s also some frank talk about his history with drugs and alcohol, which he freely admits nearly killed him.

The doc has fun with the format, at one point bringing in actors to play the performer’s parents. Several scenes find him talking through his issues with a psychiatrist (again, an actor) who in one laugh-out-loud moment stifles a yawn as he goes on. Moby even confronts death, in the form of the scythe-wielding spectre. The musician says he’s a big fan of Death’s work, since it relieves so many of earthly suffering. Death does not return the compliment.

Moby Doc is not the last word on the musician, but it’s a nice introduction. And since it omits the question of where that name came from, I’ll reveal what I learned elsewhere, that it was a nickname given to him as a child, backed by a family claim that he is distantly related to Moby Dick author Herman Melville. Good call; they could have called him Ahab. Or Starbuck.

Moby Doc is available May 27 through the Ted Rogers Hot Doc Cinema, and May 28 through Vancity.

3.5 stars out of 5

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