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Rock That Uke (2007)

Holly Hunter , Sean Anderson , William Preston Robertson  |  Unrated |  DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Holly Hunter
  • Directors: Sean Anderson, William Preston Robertson
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Bald Guy With a Dent In His Head Productions
  • DVD Release Date: November 19, 2007
  • Run Time: 62 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0011Z1SZO
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,259 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews


Charming and informative!

To some, it's a musical punchline. To others, it's the ultimate symbol of cool. The ukulele, that tiny instrument with the smaller sound, is the symbol of an entire underground, a weapon of pride for loners and geeks, the arty and the kitschy, punk rockers and retro girls.

The ukulele subculture is the subject of Sean Anderson and William Preston Robertson's 2003 documentary Rock That Uke, which finds the instrument acting as a defining object in the lives of its interviewees. Here are musicians that carry the ukulele as a means of standing out, of refusing not to fit in.

There are some, like the performance artist who's interviewed while wearing a cow suit (he also wears the costume on stage), who view the uke as a symbol of the intentionally geeky. To them, the instrument is a piece in their big, strange comedy puzzle. Others take the ukulele more seriously yet still find it at the core of what are essentially novelty acts: the guy who struts on stage in a straw hat and grass skirt, for instance.

Others, like Janet Klein (whom DVD fans may recognize as "the Ukulele Girl" from the special edition disc of the Steve Martin comedy "The Jerk"), celebrate its nostalgic vibe. The uke was once a symbol of romantic music; you couldn't serenade your lady without one. Klein is at the front of a cottage industry of recordings and performances that aim to emulate forgotten styles and ribald parlor tunes filled with double entendres that conflict with their apparent old fashioned values.

Others still enjoy the sheer musicality of the ukulele. One interviewee describes the sound a uke makes: "There's no bottom to it. Chords can be very ambiguous." Indeed, the ukulele can make a happy song feel melancholy, or a sad song feel gleeful. Some push the instrument to its limits, finding ways to plug in this acoustic thing, to see what other odd sounds can be milked from it.

It's a very easy instrument to learn, we are told, and it's also relatively cheap to buy, two facts that make it a favorite in some punk rock circles; its existence as an "anti-instrument," seen by others as merely a children's toy, adds to the rebellious appeal. Carmaig de Forest is a singer-songwriter whose tunes have a raw, vulgar punk sensibility, even when they're plucked out on his gentle ukulele. Other groups, with names like like Uke Til U Puke, Ukefink, and Pineapple Princess, plug in and kick out the jams, cranking their ukuleles to the breaking point.

We meet all of these people and more (let's not forget the founder of something called "Ukulele Consciousness," a group which exists in the fog between fan club and organized religion), and it would be very easy for Anderson and Robertson to turn this into a mockery festival, a step the duo thankfully never takes. The filmmakers treat their interviewees - even the weirdest, cow suit-wearing ones - with admiration and respect, and some of them are allowed to share deeply personal stories that truly move us. It's a nice change of pace from the dozens of documentaries that come to laugh at, not with, its quirky subjects. Here, the movie admits that some of these folks are strange indeed, but for the most part, they're just cool folks making cool music.

And music is central to Rock That Uke, which sets aside plenty of time for the viewer to enjoy the widely varied ways in which the ukulele can, well, rock out. Even when the performances don't fit your musical tastes, you'll still be captivated by their sheer gusto and bold inventiveness.

Charming and informative, Rock That Uke is certainly recommended to anyone with an interest in the underground music scene.

--David Cornelius, DVD Talk

A documentary that doesn't have me placing a shotgun to my head !

Rock That Uke is all about those self-professed losers who still carry the ukulele high and proud in the air and use the bastard, freak son of the musical world as their primary means of musical expression: they play punk rock, distorted art rock, dirty, innuendo-filled pervert rock. Some keep it classical, playing the stuff we come to think of when we, if we, think about ukuleles at all. Others mic the thing and run it through a ridiculous amount of effects pedals to make the kind of wall of sound music that Phil Spector would shoot you over. Others keep it simple with the uke, but bring some lyrical power that is both disturbing and catchy, and still others just seem to find the general aesthetic of it all very pleasing.

I wouldn't classify this documentary as remotely objective; this is pro-uke propaganda at its finest, and you're either going to dig what you're hearing or you're going to tune out. On that token, however, at a slim 62 minutes, the documentary finds itself proportional in length as the uke is in size, and therefore easy to handle regardless of how you feel about uke-rock. You do learn a bit about the history of the uke, but that's more to make a case for how punk rock the thing is as opposed to actually educating you (again, this is pro-uke, sexy-that-Konablaster-up). The documentary also does a good job in allowing us to get to know the many "unique" personalities, which is the real find on this DVD: the artists themselves.

And if you do dig the music, and want to hear more of it, or see more of the performers in the film, then the DVD is more than ready, boasting over 80 minutes of additional performance footage (what does it mean when the extra performance footage is longer than the doc itself).

This is light-hearted fare across the board. If there was a category for documentaries that are just fun, enjoyable watches, then Rock That Uke is right there, and thank God for that. As much as I appreciate an amazing, deeply resonant political or sociological documentary, I see far too many that leave me convinced that the world is going to melt, get nuked or we're all going to genocide each other into oblivion. It's nice to watch a documentary that doesn't have me placing a shotgun to my head because I'm afraid there's no better options. Now I might just pick up my girlfriend's ukulele instead.

All told, this is another world that's being presented to us, and it isn't one many are familiar with (I mean, I worked on a film with Ian Whitcomb, went to one of his shows and even I forgot that the man was a ukulele god until he showed up in the doc). As such, it will broaden your musical horizons, whether you like the new view or not, and that's something to appreciate as well.

--Mark Bell, Film Threat

Subtly hysterical!

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.

--Marjorie Skinner, Portland Mercury

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Fun August 11, 2008
Pro: This movie is great fun. Not sure why another reviewer was so upset, but maybe the movie hit a nerve? I have been playing the Ukulele, recording Uke CD's and performing worldwide for years as Tornadic Ukulele - and I found this movie to be hilarious, albeit in a slightly dark way. In the same vain as shows documenting UFO conventions in the 1950's , where people talk about spending time on Venus with their alien friends. The difference here is this movie PROVES Ukulele's are real, and they are out there!

Con: I'm not in it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Rock That Uke" Rocks! August 18, 2008
This documentary is both entertaining and informative. Having had the typical view of ukulele players as musicians in grass skirts, this viewer was amazed to find the widely varying ukulele playing styles that exist and the fascinating subculture that surrounds the instrument. The music was incredible to put it mildly. This dvd is totally enjoyable.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Verified Purchase
this is a great video to understand the projection of the ukulele in the years preceding the explosion that the instrument has had since 2008. The path of the underground facility, as well as artists, are presented in a very honest, giving space for artists to comment on what they feel playing ukulele.
For lovers of old ukuleles will be interesting to watch this video to see what was and what was invented before the growth of factorys of the instrument.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making the Ukelele Cool Again November 5, 2013
By Eric
Bill Robertson has the perfect wry sense of humor to explain this adorable runt of musical instruments. Before you disparage the ukelele, remember it was John Lennon's favorite, and it's not cool to argue with the dead.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring! June 5, 2013
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I LOVED this documentary. Some people have commented that the production values are low, but this was made in the pre-HD era. I found it was easy to look past that.

Rock That Uke features people who are serious about the uke, but who don't take themselves too seriously. This documentary inspired me to have more fun making music (and noise) and not worry so much about trying to become a ukulele virtuoso.

I hope they do a follow up. It would be fun to catch up with some of the characters they featured and get introduced to some new ones.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "Eraserhead" of Ukulele Documentaries November 5, 2013
By Larry D
I don't pretend to be objective about this quirky little film, as I am acquainted with several of the people profiled here. I was on the outskirts of their tiny subset of the Ukulele Universe (and yes, there is one) in the early 2000s, just as filmmaker Bill Robertson was editing "Rock That Uke". It is a time capsule, capturing a handful of unusual, entertaining, occasionally brilliant musicians and performers who had chosen the ukulele as their "axe". Jake Shimabukuro was a few years from his first mention in "Rolling Stone"; James Hill was just about to break out; but neither of them appears in "RTU". And none of the people interviewed here have achieved their level of notoriety. Not that they were without talent. But Travis Harrelson (since deceased) was pushing 70, Casey Korder of the Rumblepups was wearing a cow suit, Ian Whitcomb's real fame was 60 years ago, and many of the other performers are just plain too weird for prime time. So, no - "Rock That Uke" isn't the "Star Wars" of the uke world. It's more like the "Eraserhead". Comparing it to "Mighty Uke" isn't fair to either film. If you love the ukulele, there's room for both.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Plinkbud..." November 5, 2013
Saying this film is "about" ukes and uke music is like saying "To Kill a Mockingbird" is about mockingbirds or "Dr. Strangelove" is about bodily fluids or "The Bicycle Thief" is about bicycles and thievery or "Chinatown" is about water rights or "Citizen Kane" is about a rich dude forcing his tone-deaf mistress upon the opera world. Artists of the human spirit need vehicles in which to ferry their insights about life and death to audiences; these directors chose the ukulele and a certain subset of its players, and their ferry piloting is masterful. If you're looking for the ukulele version of "Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful" well, yes, you'll probably be disappointed. But how could you look at cover art that depicts an apparently naked guy curled up in a fetal position and holding a ukulele in front of his face and think, "Yee haw, a popcorn movie!"

This is a hell of a film. Tough to summarize, tough to analyze. Because it's subtle, unpredictable, and great.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a rare look at the bleeding edge of the current ukulele revival. Produced before Jake Shimabukuro's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" took YouTube by storm, Rock that Uke profiles the players who were exploring the uke's past and pushing the envelope into an entirely new vision for what four strings and 12 frets can do--at a time when strumming the uke placed you solidly outside mainstream pop culture.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars prime viewing
it occurred to me that "ukulele" is a prime (no other english word can be spelled using this collection of letters). in a system where a=1, k=11 and u=21, etc. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Bruce R Tizes
5.0 out of 5 stars A film made for artists
""He came in with two ukuleles and gave me one. 'You gotta play this thing, it's great! Let's jam.' I have no idea how to play a ukulele. 'Oh, it's no problem, I'll show you. Read more
Published 10 months ago by BellaMare
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice film
A wild and wonderful ride. Makes me want to pick up my Uke again after all these years. Holly Hunter is a nice choice to tell the story.
Published 10 months ago by pabliuxmal
5.0 out of 5 stars rock that uke is a movie about ukes and uke enthusiasts
Now you tell me, is this a story or is this a story? I'll say! Robertson's handling of this most heavy of topics is both engaging and endearing. Read more
Published 10 months ago by motherscratcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Fierce and Inspiring. A terrific film!
As someone who didn't know much about the ukelele, Rock That Uke opened a whole world to me, sparked my curiosity and inspired me to pick up the instrument and start making some... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Fringe413
5.0 out of 5 stars Rock That Uke is a must see!
A delightful and slightly ahead of its time frolic through the underbelly of ukedom. Narrated by none other than the charming voice of Holly Hunter, this film explores the hipper... Read more
Published 10 months ago by missjonibu
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous glimpse into the beginning of our latest love for the...
Back before the current wave of popularity, one ukulele nut took it upon himself to document the growing ukulele sub-culture. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it from the beginning
I saw this movie when it was first released years ago... and I even got to shoot a short introduction for it when it was shown at the Louisville film and Video Festival. Read more
Published 10 months ago by DrMike1954
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun!
I thought this doc was a lot of fun. I agree with all the positive reviews on here. I don't understand the negative reviews. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jasper A.M.Z. Crack
5.0 out of 5 stars Uke-tastic (My god, I hate writing headlines)
I had fun spending time with a quirky, fun, and talented bunch who were well ahead of the recent uke revival. Good stuff.
Published 10 months ago by K. L. Jensen
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