Who Killed Captain Alex: Post-Modern, Post Colonial, Hip Hop, Cinema?
Who Killed Captain Alex was made by the ebullient Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana in 2010. It was filmed in Kampala the capital of Uganda. The film is an outrageous riot of gunfire and fisticuffs. Fifteen minutes into this completely disorienting mess, the narrator provides a helpful announcement to what can only be a bewildered audience, “You are watching Who Killed Captain Alex and the first VJ in English ever from Wakaliwood. This is how we enjoy movies in Uganda. And now Captain Alex: The Musical.” This statement is far from clarifying but it at least extends a helpful hand in trying to explain what is flashing in front of you on the screen. Whatever it is, it looks like everyone involved is having the time of their life.
The narrator whose name is Emmie, has a completely novel relationship to the film. The film has a conventional soundtrack with dialogue, sound effects and music but in addition there is a continuous dubbed track of Emmie’s voice over. His non stop narration serves many different functions. Sometimes he describes what is on screen e.g. when a group of camo-clad gunslingers burst on to the screen Emmie yells with great enthusiasm, “Tough commandos on a mission!”
Emmie calls himself a “VJ” which I am assuming is a throw back to the 1980’s when the hosts of a nascent Mtv referred to themselves as “video jockeys.” Emmie’s ecstatic enthusiasm is contagious. At one point he is so overcome with excitement he just yells “Movie! Movie! Movie! Movie!” He often sounds like a Mexican Football announcer shouting color commentary at the screen.
This is not Emmie’s soul function. He also provides a kind of assistance to the movie as a whole. He yells out things like “Action is coming. I promise you!” or “ Wow! this music is good or my favorite “Expect the unexpectable!” Mostly Emmie’s role is akin to a rapper mc. He says things like “VJ Emmie on the microphone!”
There is also a hip hop sense of having to “represent.” Every morning before production starts, Nabwana and his crew sing an anthem they wrote about their home and their company, affectionately referred to by the same name, Wakaliwood. Wakaliwood is a combination of the word Hollywood and the name of slum where Nabwana lives and works, Wakaliga in Kampala.
Emmie’s ranting is also very pro Uganda. When Emmie introduces a new character called “Supa Kung Fu Master” Emmie explains that the Supa Kung FuMaster was trained at the Ugandan Shaolin Temple. Emmie further notes that the master is a Ugandan Bruce Lee and is called Bruce U. When Bruce U spends the night sleeping in a tree Emmie calls it “Hotel Kampala.”
Often Emmie says the characters lines for them, and sometimes he conveys what they are thinking, or even what we should be thinking. In one scene he reminds us, “Remember she is here to kidnap Alex.”
Emmie also functions like Joel in Mystery Science Theater 2000. Emmie makes fun of what is happening on screen. He makes fart noises, he laughs, he dubs over a woman being tortured so that she appears to yell out “I will never watch Nollywood again!” (a reference to Wakaliwood’s competitor in Nigeria.)
It may be difficult to believe but Who Killed Captain Alex had a budget of 200 dollars. In fact Nabwana has made over 40 films each with a similar budget. The actors are unpaid friends and family. There is actually a continuous world wide casting call. Anyone who wants to be in a film can just show up in Wakaliwood and you will be given a role. All of the props, dollies, tripods, equipment and even the computer on which the film was edited were cobbled together from scrap.
I’m guessing Nabwana saved money by not worrying too much about shooting permits or SAG fees. When you have a tiny budget you have to be creative. In one seen a commando explains to his soldiers that when they attack the mafia base it is going to look like an old school. This one ingenious line probably saved a lot of money. You have to work with what you’ve got. If all you have is an old school than just ask the audience to use their imaginations. It all functions as a grand democratizing invitation to DIY your own film.
It is also unlikely that Nabwana was able to pay Warner Music for Kiss From A Rose by Seal, which is played on a synthesizer throughout the film providing a soothing, melodic accompaniment to all the blood splatters and explosions.
Nabwana does everything. He writes the films, he is the director and the camera man. He edits the films and builds whatever needs to be built. If there ever was a true auteur its Nabwana. He even manages to include CGI of helicopters and exploding buildings. For some reason the beginning of the film starts with a sort of gag reel where a helicopter drops two soldiers off in Times Square and they proceed to blow up Katz’s Delicatessen. This unforgivable act of pastrami related terrorism has no connection to the rest of the film, never mind that Katz’s is miles away from Time Square.
The movie has a storyline and if I were to watch it a few more times I might decipher it. Its basically about a war between government commandos and thugs from The Tiger Mafia. Captain Alex is killed during a botched kidnaping attempt involving a prostitute who promises to beat Captain Alex’s rat and then Captain Alex apparently gets killed off screen. More stuff happens, mostly shooting guns and flailing imitations of kung fu and then the movie suddenly ends. I don’t understand what I saw but I was sad to see it go.
You can say that Who Killed Captain Alex is so bad its good, or that it is purposely ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. However you want to label it, its a joy to watch. It is a unique cinematic experience you will not get from any other movie.
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Breathlessly, ardently I beseech you all to harken to my call. Let me be the harbinger of a cinema most revolutionary…