I’ve always been a pretty big fan of documentary film-making. It’s interesting how somebody with a camera is able to tap into different environments and cultures. More interesting, still, is the variety of responses they receive from their subjects. Whatever the topic – crime, subcultures, medicine, foreign countries, politics, business – I admire the documentarian for their intrepid nature and commitment to providing a full, honest picture of whatever it is they want to share with the world. One of my favourite documentarians is Louis Theroux, whose ‘play-dumb’ approach to documentary film-making has made him both beloved and notorious in the media world. He always lets the subjects take control of the camera and lead the way, knowing that whether he’s on their side or not, they’re bound to provide the footage he wants if he leaves them unsupervised with a lens for long enough.
I was looking for music documentaries after hearing about one called ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot‘ which was shot in 1986 and basically follows a load of Judas Priest fans drinking out of their car boots in the parking lot of a stadium before a concert. The film has since garnered cult status as one of the most entertaining, insightful and utterly bewildering documentary films ever made, and inspired the film that I ended up watching the other day.
For those who don’t know, a Juggalo is a term for die-hard fans of the Insane Clown Posse. For those who still don’t know, Insane Clown Posse (ICP) is a horrorcore rap-duo from Detroit, Michigan whose combination of violent, macabre lyrics and eerie clown make-up has made them one of the most successful white rap acts of all time – over their 23-year history, the duo have released 14 albums and sold over 6 million records worldwide.
Developing their stage personas and image over the release of their first few albums, the story goes that at a show back in the 90s Violent J addressed their audience as ‘Juggalos’ and the name just stuck. A sub-culture was formed, with fanatical followers of the group attending shows in full clown make up and black clothing. Modern traits of a Juggalo are said to include ‘spider legs’ hairstyling, metal jewellery or tattoos bearing the “Hatchet Man” logo of ICP’s own Psychopathic Records, and drinking vast quantities of a soft drink from Detroit called Faygo. They also identify each other in public by shouting, “Whoop! Whoop!” in a call-and-response that could echo through the ages.
But 23 years is a long time. If you water a plant, then the plant will grow. Fast-forward to the year 2000, and the Juggalo following had reached a point where the community was pushing for an annual get together of Juggalos where they could express themselves in the security of their own people. The Gathering of the Juggalos was born. After a few years of teething problems and venue changes as the group battled with a) unhappy locals, b) over-enthusiastic fans and c) general complaints of violence, drug-abuse, foul language and bad behaviour, the Gathering seems to have found a safe haven at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, a small town with a population of just over 300 and a state park that now, for 5 days a year, is the host to over 10 000 Juggalos, Juggalettes, Juggalings and all things ICP. Sounds like the kind of place that would make a pretty fucking interesting documentary, right? Oh yes.
‘American Juggalo‘, directed by Sean Dunne, was released back in 2011, and is a 23-minute documentary film that takes us on a trip around the Gathering campsite, interviewing various Juggalos and oddballs along the way. There is no narration, no introduction and no conclusion, and the subjects in the film really are just given an opportunity to talk to the camera and say how they feel. The subject matter crosses all manner of things from the life of a Juggalo, prejudices surrounding the culture, the sanctity of life, the importance of education, pregnancy, obesity, the safety of spray paint, titties and drugs. It really is a candid and unpredictable experience.
The thing that interested me most about the documentary was the lack of a directorial voice. As I saw each of these characters talking to the camera it got me wondering if the filmmakers had approached each of these people and asked them for an interview, or if they themselves were being approached by enthusiastic Juggalos who wanted a chance to say their piece. Sometimes they’ll start talking and you find yourself asking, “What the fuck are you trying to say?” You can easily imagine these guys walking around being interrupted by random people going “HEY, WHATCHA FILMING?!” only for them to then begin pouring their hearts and souls into the camera. I think there’s something quite poignant about that. A lot of the feeling you get from these people is that they have never felt like they fitted in anywhere else in society, and that they never had a voice. At the Gathering of the Juggalos they are one of thousands and the camera is their chance to talk to the rest of the world in an environment where they are completely free to be whoever they believe themselves to be – a Juggalo.
Because of this lack of an authoritative voice, however, you never feel like the film is trying to make a particular point. You might laugh at the way they act, you might admire the moving things some of them say, you might even hate one with every inch of your body, but the film presents them in such a way that all of that is your decision and your choice. There are some people in this film that I genuinely admire, and some of the sentiments expressed are actually pretty universal. That said, there are also some people that I want to throttle very hard with a hosepipe. That being said, I know these feelings are all my own, and I would have thought them about anybody, regardless of whether they have neon green dreadlocks and piercings in ridiculous places. It’s only twenty minutes long and it’s completely unlike anything you’ve seen before, so give it a shot.