Finding Joseph I: The HR from Bad Brains Documentary

Studio: MVD Visual

Jan 10, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

One of the most energetic, magnetic, and controversial figures to come from the New York Hardcore punk scene was HR, the frontman of African-American punk group Bad Brains. Finding Joseph I attempt to encapsulate the essence of the enigmatic musician by providing a glimpse into his chaotic history, one that finds him as a punk rock forefather who would suddenly and abruptly turn from the aggressive, hardcore punk that made his name into a mellow, spiritually-heavy reggae. That he’s equally adept at any style he attempts is a testament not only to his talent but also his ability to seek out loving, like-minded folk who are willing to help him bring his visions—however bizarre they may be—into fruition.

HR’s history is most certainly dark, but it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that they have chosen to not address, confront, or focus too heavily on some of the more controversial elements of Hudson’s career: the heavy drug use, the mental illness, and the ultra-conservative dogmatic Rastafarian beliefs. Obviously in telling his story, some of these elements cannot be ignored, such as the utter mistrust HR had toward major labels, or the breakdowns and moments of darkness and flights of fancy that would stand in the way between the band ascending to the next level of popularity that always seemed to be right around the corner.  Thus, there are times that Finding Joseph I becomes frustrating, as one watches one opportunity after another being squandered because the visionary’s mental state is unhealthy.

Finding Joseph I is a testament to the transcendental nature of HR and his otherworldly personality. He is spoken of with great love and affection from old friends, former bandmates, and business associates—people who may well have very good reasons to speak ill of him and his behavior. It’s certainly true that his fellow Bad Brains members have a great deal of patience for him, as he does things from getting into fights with audience members, disappearing for weeks at a time, deciding to change musical styles and even the band name.  Thankfully, by the end of the documentary, the biggest question that keeps fomenting in the mind of the viewer—“WHY DOESN’T HE GET PSYCHIATRIC HELP??”—is finally answered, as his new wife confronts him about his mental issues, and he finally realizes that he is schizophrenic. The HR we see in the final minutes of Finding Joseph I is clear-headed, lucid, and at peace with himself and his demons—the man you wish he had been decades before.

Yet in spite of its objectivity, Finding Joseph I doesn’t exactly leave the viewer with a satisfying portrait of the complex man of the past hour and a half. Perhaps that’s the point—that one can never fully understand a mysterious man such as HR, that he’s simply too complicated a fellow to every truly know.  It’s best to let his amazing discography be the best tool to understanding the unique mind of HR.


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