Rock that Uke

dir. Robertson & Anderson

Mon-Wed June 30-July 2

Clinton Street Theater

Sooner or later, everything gets its time in the sun. Here, in the ongoing progression of creative ways to out-punk the post-punks ad infinitum, the plunky, bitty ukulele takes its turn. Rock That Uke documents a number of musicians who've taken up the pygmy instrument as a primary voice in their compositions. The film is often funny, as a goofy cast of characters attempt to impress upon the viewer how and why the ukulele has made such an impression on them. For instance, Casey Korder (aka The Rumble Pups) earnestly explains, while dressed in a full cow suit, that a) he used to do a lot of drugs and b) it's possible that ukuleles were a gift to earth from aliens.

Some of the musicians featured are fascinating, like Carmaig de Forest, a stuttery punk with a truly unique tone, and Oliver Brown, whose open-mouthed geek songs are hilarious and dead earnest. Others are godawful, like Pineapple Princess, a female, electric ukulele duo that sucks almost as hard as it tries. One of the best quotes in the film is a comment made by one of their uke colleagues: "I respect them for not having improved for so long."

A dwarfish, shrill cousin to the conventional rock guitar, the ukulele is a perfectly logical successor in the chain of punk ethos, subverting the brassy, arrogant phallus, making irritating sounds, and so forth. Rock That Uke introduces us to a man who pushes the envelope with the concept of a uke player's mentality by creating a quasi religion called "Ukulele Consciousness." (The guy in the cow suit is a member.)

Rock That Uke manages to be subtly hysterical, in the tender, hands-off way that makes documentaries so precious. It serves its subject well, introducing some interesting uses for the ukulele, making it seem cooler, inspiring, and versatile. It's also self-conscious and funny, given that it's impossible to pick up the thing with an entirely straight face--and, naturally, that is its most embraceable quality.