Review: ‘Moby Doc’ charts highs and lows of the DJ/musician, even when they’re cringe-inducing

Musician Richard Melville Hall, a.k.a. Moby, plays a guitar.
Musician Richard Melville Hall, a.k.a. Moby, in the documentary “Moby Doc.”
(Greenwich Entertainment)

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The musician Richard Melville Hall — better known as Moby — was at the peak of his popularity between 1999 and 2002, when his groundbreaking electronica albums “Play” and “18” sold millions, spawning hits that were licensed freely to movies, TV shows and commercials. Moby’s sales have since fallen off but he’s continued to follow his own quirky muse; and as he’s moved into his 50s he’s begun reflecting on his past, writing a memoir and even rerecording some old songs with fresh arrangements for his new album, “Reprise.”

This is all part of the context for “Moby Doc,” a biographical film directed and edited by Rob Gordon Bralver, and conceived and written by Bralver with Moby. The DJ and composer narrates his own story while also participating in the puckish animated interludes and surreal reenactments meant to connect the archival footage, forging a larger commentary on the perils of massive fame.


Bralver and Moby’s approach is, to say the least, self-indulgent. Some of their experiments in offbeat, tongue-in-cheek storytelling come off as way too glib, turning subjects like addiction and suicide into cringe-inducing attempts at alt-comedy. Yet there’s still something inspiring about Moby’s all-too-familiar tale of ascension, decline and redemption — especially since the artist had to do it twice.

The first half of “Moby Doc” covers his troubled childhood and his years of scraping by in poverty, before a handful of innovative singles like “Go” and “Feeling So Real” propelled him to the top of the dance music scene. Substance abuse and erratic behavior then nearly scuttled Moby’s career, until he broke into the mainstream with the mega-popular “Play,” marrying techno with old folk and gospel samples.

Anyone seeking details about Moby’s inspirations and process when recording “Play” has come to the wrong movie. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on his actual work here. Instead, he talks about how a level-jump in fame and fortune left him feeling spiritually empty and paranoid, and how he recovered by communing with nature and becoming a tireless activist for animal rights.

Still, for all its questionable creative choices, “Moby Doc” is at least more personal and daring than the typical music documentary. This is the movie equivalent of Moby’s discography, with highs and lows tied directly to its creator’s own embarrassing slip-ups and sublime moments of grace.

'Moby Doc'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Starts May 28, Landmark Nuart, West L.A., and on VOD; June 4, Laemmle theaters and Laemmle Virtual Cinema