Tribeca Film Festival: I Want My MTV (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

I was born in August of 1982, just one year after MTV debuted. I grew up on MTV, and I remember many of the network’s milestones just from being a young viewer. While I wasn’t aware of the network in its first few years, I was probably five or six when I started watching it regularly. Thus, when I saw I Want My MTV (2019) was on the Tribeca line-up, I knew I wasn’t going to miss it.

I Want My MTV made me crave for the MTV of old…

Directed by Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop, the movie looks at basically every aspect from the inception of the idea of music videos on television (heavily due to Michael Nesmith, originally) as a TV show called “Popclips” that would air on Nickelodeon, to the network itself. The auditions with the original VJ’s, interviews with musicians and their thoughts on the network and how it changed the music industry for better or worse, and mini-biographies on many of the founding employees of the company. All-in-all, this is a comprehensive and entertaining look at the early days of MTV.

The ending of the film rushes through the later parts of the network. Basically, from the time it is sold to Viacom to modern day gets tacked on as a twenty-minute section. It would have been better to either leave this for a follow-up documentary or to stretch it out a bit more if the filmmakers felt the need to include it. For example, in this section, it is discussed how MTV’s change from strictly music videos to more traditional programming changed the landscape of shows with the introduction of reality television with its series called “Real World”. This is a huge milestone in the company’s history, and to be thrown in at the end felt like short shrift.

Fortunately, the ending didn’t hurt this film at all. I was captivated throughout my entire viewing, and while I was familiar with many parts of it, the in-depth looks and element that I had not heard about were very interesting. One section of the film focused on the controversy of MTV essentially being called racist by Rick James for not playing videos by black artists. MTV’s defense feels sadly comical, as they begin to list the two or three black artists whose videos qualified as “rock-n-roll” enough to be aired. However, it was the interview with MTV VJ Mark Goodman and David Bowie that was the most memorable segment of this documentary for me. Bowie decides to flip the formula of the interview and ask Goodman why black artists aren’t being aired. The conversation doesn’t make Goodman look good, but the filmmakers give modern-day Goodman a chance to defend his failed efforts to answers Bowie’s questions.

Final thoughts…

Overall, if you are a fan of music, music videos, or old-school TV, then this documentary is one to catch. It’s assembled well, it’s entertaining, and definitely tickles the nostalgia muscles in a pleasant way. I long for the days of old, and echo the many celebrities who were recruited in proclaiming “I want my MTV!” The documentary earns the Must See rating.

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