Review by Sean Boelman
Ike White (later known by his stage name David Maestro) is inarguably one of the most unorthodox musicians in history, and Daniel Vernon’s profile of him, The Changin’ Times of Ike White, hopes to bring his unknown story to the world. A short runtime does work against the film, but the story is so unique that it manages to be compelling regardless.
The film follows the unusual journey of musician White from recording his acclaimed first album while serving a life sentence in prison to reinventing himself with a flamboyant musical persona. Like a blend of a true crime documentary and a quirky musical biography, White’s story is as unpredictable as his personality.
Admittedly, there is a lot of story to be told, and Vernon struggles to cover it all in under eighty minutes. The first half, focusing on the eponymous album that was produced while White was in prison, is the more developed, but there is a lot that is intriguing about the later portion of his story, yet it feels like the film barely scratches the surface in this regard.
One of the most interesting things about Vernon’s approach is the way in which he develops the subject. White is an unusual character, and as such, he deserves more than a traditional biography. The film explores him on both a musical and a personal level, trying to paint a comprehensive portrait of him.
Although the film may not be as clear or concise with its messaging as one would hope, the things that the film has to say about second chances and making the most of one’s situation are really profound. Some of the random wisdom that White attempts to impart isn’t as consistent or engaging.
If the film does miss significantly in one regard, it is that it doesn’t feature nearly enough of White’s music. There are some archive clips and uses of music in the soundtrack, and it’s understandable why resources from his time in prison were limited, but that doesn’t explain the lack of materials for the later part of his story.
Vernon also doesn’t do much in the way of changing up the documentary form. It’s a mostly standard combination of interviews and archive footage. That said, it is not what Vernon uses, but how he uses it that matters, as he takes these basic elements and uses them to tell a story that is anything but.
The Changin’ Times of Ike White is about a unique musician with whom many viewers may be unacquainted. And while the documentary may not leave one with much of an understanding of his music, it will undoubtedly leave them with an appreciation of his story.
The Changin’ Times of Ike White is now streaming in virtual cinemas. Tickets can be purchased here.