[SXSW 2020] THE MOJO MANIFESTO: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOJO NIXON -- A Conventional Biography Highlighting a Unique Persona
Review by Sean Boelman
An homage to one of the most famous rebels in all of music history, The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon is a documentary tailor-made for fans of the cult-favorite musician. However, despite the unabashedly weird persona of its subject, this is a disappointingly conventional biography.
The film tells the story of Mojo Nixon (born Neill Kirby McMillan Jr.) as he goes from son of a radio station owner to a blues-inspired counterculture sensation known for his unorthodox style and absurd live appearances. McMillan’s story is an interesting one, even for those who are uninitiated to the Mojo, because it is a compelling and unexpected rags-to-riches tale.
However, director Matt Eskey makes some unusual choices behind the camera. For one, the movie doesn’t follow McMillan’s life chronologically, presenting itself in chapters, and chapter one doesn’t come until about twenty minutes into the film. The result is that the movie stumbles early on and struggles to regain its footing.
Of course, it would be wholly inaccurate to say that McMillan lived anything close to a boring or traditional life. Yet even so, Eskey presents McMillan’s story in a very paint-by-numbers way, forcing the film to follow the beats of a generic rock doc (albeit in a slightly different order). While this does make the movie easily palatable, it doesn’t provide the insight that fans would like to hear.
In what is both one of the film's biggest strengths and its greatest weakness, Eskey frames the movie around interviews with McMillan himself. Even though McMillan is technically retired, he still has an obvious passion for his music, and still exhibits a lot of the same wacky traits. That said, his idiosyncratic persona leads him to rambling at times, which is entertaining at first but becomes old pretty quickly.
Additionally, Eskey’s film is very rough and unpolished. Although it is almost fitting given the subject, it is frankly pretty distracting. The interviews are poorly-framed and not very aesthetically appealing at all. The editing feels haphazard and struggles to maintain a sense of narrative momentum.
What ends up being the saving grace of this movie is the wealth of archive materials to which Eskey had access. Eskey incorporates the modern-day interviews with past interviews with McMillan and performance footage. These moments in which the audience gets to see McMillan performing are the most entertaining in the film.
For the most part, The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon is made for those who are already fans of the musician. Still, some very fun moments allow the movie to be entirely watchable despite its flaws.
The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.