Milford Graves Full Mantis

If you’re going to use the mantis, use all of the mantis.

Jake Meginsky’s experimental documentary Milford Graves Full Mantis opens with an epigram credited to the film’s subject, legendary free-jazz drummer Milford Graves: “Look at the room downstairs, look at the garden outside. Don’t try to analyze it. Just take it in.” The film takes place primarily in the house of that aforementioned room and garden — which is in New York, but wouldn’t be out of place in Bolinas — and the great irony is that Graves himself spends much of the running time analyzing not only those locations but also his music, his body, and how they all interact.

While his fascination with nature knows no bounds, “full mantis” referring to the inspiration he takes from the praying mantis, he also fully embraces technology. (Notably, a printout of Ray Kurzweil’s definition of the Singularity is taped to the side of the computer the 76-year-old Graves uses to turn his own body’s sounds into electronic music.) The often-mesmerizing Milford Graves Full Mantis is also one of those documentaries where you wish the music being played identified onscreen at the time, but judging from the closing credits, the wonderful drone-and-electronic-boopery around the one-hour mark is “Unreleased electronic music heartbeat recordings and LabVIEW sonifications by Milford Graves.” It isn’t on iTunes, but it fully deserves to be.

Not rated. 
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.

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