fri 19/04/2024

Arena: The Changin' Times of Ike White, BBC Four review - musical mystery becomes personal | reviews, news & interviews

Arena: The Changin' Times of Ike White, BBC Four review - musical mystery becomes personal

Arena: The Changin' Times of Ike White, BBC Four review - musical mystery becomes personal

The 'true' stories of an almost-star

Whatever became of Ike White?

The most obvious comparison for The Changin’ Times of Ike White (BBC Four) is 2012’s Searching for Sugar Man, with its story of a potential star having vanished into thin air at the brink of fame and fortune.

The documentary began in the usual way of music biopics, with talking heads listening rapturously to the musician in question, then archive footage.

However, although the first heads are true musos (drummers for Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone) the majority of the voices in this programme were those of wives and girlfriends, characteristic of its whole tone. Because he had a minimal listenable output, the focus was more on the person than the music, a divergence that is, admittedly, more gripping than the latter. However, if the viewer was there for the former, they may be disappointed.  

The big reveal happened within the first few minutes, the fact that Ike White was distinguished as a musician by his being in prison for a life sentence. Initially held back, however, was the mystery of why he received this punishing term. A little alleyway was taken here, into the privations of life for prisoners in American jails in 1970. Music was White’s salvation, allowing him first an emotional, then a physical, escape. 

Because of White’s initial situation, his mysteriousness was immediately established, an elusiveness echoed throughout, which carried a story which might otherwise have petered out. It was maintained well, as he remained shadowy and indistinct until the end. This was in part because of his mendacity, which begins for the viewer at the point where he met his first wife. We started to hear from her about why he was in prison, but there was a feeling that the tale that he told her might be just that.  

Then, a neat third of the way in, the introduction to Ike White the rising star ended with the fact that the album faded into obscurity. Following this came the brief search for him, under various pseudonyms, ending with the comedic discovery of his reinvention as David Maestro – all purple suit, terrible filming and keyboards. His present was embedded in the middle of the film, a happy life with his last wife, Lana, before returning to his past when he suddenly committed suicide about halfway through. He told his own early life and prison stories just beforehand, but these became less of a focus as the film went on, and other mysteries took their place.  

Changin’ Times was blessed with hooks aplenty and a pleasing aesthetic. The stories were animated well and the cinematography excellent, fittingly dream-like. Its structure allowed for the interplay of different time periods and new revelations, making for a gripping story that was well worth a watch, though perhaps not for the music. There was something terribly poignant in the fact that a man who lived to perform was described after his death by the personal, rather than the musical.


White's mysteriousness was immediately established, an elusiveness echoed throughout


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters