The story of the film Icon Eye is the story of the album Icon Give Thank: Cameron Stallones (Sun Araw) and musician/producer M. Geddes Gengras travel to Jamaica to work with legendary Reggae outfit, The Congos. Although from culturally and musically different worlds, the unlikely pairing produces an album rife with modern experimentation and rocksteady substance.
But Icon Eye isn’t a typical making-of documentary; the minutiae that usually bog down films of its ilk are here replaced by a less-comprehensive, more-vivid swatch of cultural observation. The film embraces its slow roll by bear-hugging the people of Jamaica, especially The Congos and the surrounding people, music, and landscape: a pipe full of ganja is inhaled, situations in the studio assessed, magic is made over the course of 10 days. And because the film often delivers its hard-fought truths and sage wisdom through cannabis, your understanding of and connection to the film may be hindered if you’re not watching through your own personal haze. If you don’t do your part, then Icon Eye can’t do its share either.
Director Tony Lowe’s cinematography is drawn to and influenced by both half-baked visions and murky allusions to the country’s contemporary philosophical crisis: as Rastas struggle to find their way in a nation falling apart at the seams, so does Icon Eye. Its focus is rarely on the music being recorded, so insight into the resulting album is best left to the music itself. While that may be disappointing to fans awaiting the due that Stallones and Gengras deserve, Icon Eye isn’t about the resulting album; it’s about the attitude and lifestyle that inspired it.
Lowe astutely captures that vibe. Picturesque scenes of Jamaican street life and well-trodden lessons from The Congos intermingle with melodic snippets, all edited into hallucinogenic magic. The deliberate pacing of Icon Eye captures the speed of the island. Everyone, it seems, is carving out a life with what is provided, just as The Congos, Sun Araw, and Gengras have done in a music world as cutthroat as the drug violence rampant in Jamaica. But Icon Eye will have no such comparison, choosing to represent the culture through those who really live it. To understand the music, we must understand a people. Icon Eye doesn’t deliver a Jamaican manifesto, but it does provide enough syntax to allow for cultural exchange without a hint of Jingoism.