A divine and surreal experience
review by Jake Cardinal
The messiah has returned in the form of Kanye West’s new project: an experimental, short, performance film entitled Jesus is King, along with a new album of the same which was released after the world-wide premiere of the movie. Much like his song ‘Runaway’, Jesus is King is an album with an accompanying short film.
Ever since Kanye released his 2016 album The Life of Pablo (one of my top 10 favourite records of all time), the idea of Mr. West creating a true gospel album has been a long time coming. If the The Life of Pablo was a gospel album for all the bad bitches and gangsters in the club, then Jesus is King is a gospel album for your grandma to jam to on her way to church.
Before we get into the meat of this review, I’d just like to say that Kanye West is one of my favourite people in the world, not because of his politics, but because he came to Edmonton for his The Life of Pablo tour. Edmonton has a confusing ratio of oil-men with big belt buckles and hipsters with tight pants, and I think that negatively affects the type of artists who come and perform here (I’m looking at you James Murphy), so I’d just like to say thank you, Kanye. Thank you for knowing the name of our city.
The release of Jesus is King began on Thursday, October 25, 2019 with an IMAX film shot over the summer of 2019 at a little place called the Roden Crater, an actual crater left over by an extinct volcano.
If I had to describe the short film with one world if would be beautiful. Although this is a film featuring a musical performance, it was not Queen live in Montreal. This was an art-house film, for sure, which is right up my cinephile, Disney-hating alley. Megan Colligan, the president of IMAX Entertainment, wanted to be “experimenting” and “surprising audiences… beyond Blockbusters.”
The experimental performance film was directed by Nick Knight and featured 13 songs–some Kanye West hits reworked, such as ‘Street’ Lights off of his genre defining 2008 album, ‘808s and Heartbreaks’ and ‘Ultralight Beam’ off of his previously mentioned album, The Life of Pablo. The bulk of the songs, however, were performed by The Sunday Service, an American Gospel-Rap group led by Yeezus himself. They sang their own renditions of gospel classics that I can’t name (I was never one for church), along with a plethora of other songs, each of which have the praising of God as their basis.
The thing about this movie that resonates most with the viewer is the aesthetic. Because of the 38-minute run time and the extremely long shots within those 38 minutes, the film’s tone really translates as a divine and surreal experience. What I mean is that I can remember almost every single camera angle and image even a few days after my initial viewing, and unfortunately for God, this film pairs too well with a 1-gram pre-roll Cannabis Indica cigarette.
Without spoiling too much, the cinematography is definitely the best thing about the film by far. The crystal clear images of IMAX combined with the intimate moments caught on film creates a different Kanye we haven’t seen. The film constantly switches between huge spectacles of the Roden Crater landscape and architecture, and the intimacy only found in a live performance such as this one. To give you a sense: the opening of the film begins with a slow, five minute zoom-out from the top of the roden crater. This shot, paired with his new song Selah, really gets your heartrate going. The final shot of the film however, is a close up of a baby in Kanye’s arms as he sings softly off screen.
The only way I can truly explain the look of this film would be to say that every single shot acts as a 19th century naturalist painting while also dipping its toes into surrealism. The IMAX medium also adds a great deal of intimacy among the performers–the blemishes, the whites of their eyes, their sorrow and happiness. As I was watching one of the long takes of the gospel performance, I could look at one choir singer and isolate their vocals. You could tell that it wasn’t just an image with pre-recorded vocals, either, because when the music ceases between songs, you can hear the footsteps of Kanye and the shuffling of the choir. The white noise.
The Roden Crater shines as bright as the choir does in this film. The architecture of the space made me think that everything shown on film could have possibly been CGI, but because of the IMAX clarity, I could tell that what I was seeing was real and truly does exist. The acoustics of the room they performed in must also be mentioned, as I have never heard such crisp and clear music in my life.
If you get the chance to see this film, I highly suggest that do. Even if you don’t like Kanye West, the images of this film are worth seeing regardless of your preconceived notions regarding Ye’s artistic integrity.
Plus, the tickets are only 10 dollars, which may seem expensive for a 38-minute film, but trust me, it’ll be a quiet car ride home because everyone in the vehicle will be thinking about what they had just witnessed.
Jesus is King movie official site