Review: The title says it all: ‘Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music’

Taylor Mac in a scene from "Taylor Mac's 24-Decade History of Popular Music."
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In 2016, performance artist Taylor Mac reached the culmination of a project the performer had been developing with several collaborators for years: a 24-hour concert/experience, with each hour featuring songs from a different decade, beginning in the 1770s and ending in the 2010s. The show featured audience participation, elaborate drag costumes, acerbic historical footnotes, occasional snacks and a 24-piece backing band that would lose one member every hour. It was a communal happening, with a large group of performers and theatergoers — led by Mac — working together to understand how music captures its times, in ways both inspiring and regrettable.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (the co-directors of “Common Threads” and “The Celluloid Closet,” among many other acclaimed nonfiction films) can’t contain the entirety of “Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music” within their 106-minute movie of the same name. But they do fit in a good number of songs — either complete or in fragments — along with many of Mac’s over-the-top get-ups and provocations. They also weave in occasional interviews with Mac and various creative partners, talking about motivations and methods, and the grueling realities of the show. This piece wasn’t some “Hey you know what would be cool?” lark. It was an attempt to reframe hundreds of well-known songs through the eyes of some of the world’s marginalized people.

Conspicuously absent here? Any thoughts from the crowd about what spending the day with Mac was like. We do see their reactions though, as they cycle through excitement, exhaustion, caution and rapture, before landing in a place of sharing and support. As Mac explains early on, performance artists feel like they’ve succeeded even if they’ve bored or annoyed the audience — and there are likely moments in this version of “Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music” that will do just that, even to people who enjoy most of it. But even if Epstein and Friedman don’t fully document Mac’s vision, they do get across what it was and why it mattered. This movie is a lovingly crafted memento of a remarkable achievement, one that compressed Mac‘s life and much of modern history into 24 hours of wild stunts and show-stopping show-tunes.


‘Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music.’ TV-MA, for language and sexual references. 1 hour, 46 minutes. Available on Max.

“Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music” is an ultra-condensed look at the one-time-only very queer immersive theater piece by the performer Taylor Mac.

June 27, 2023

Manny Magnus, left, and Utkarsh Ambudkar in the movie "World's Best."
(Ben Mark Holzberg / Disney+)

‘World’s Best’

Actor and rapper Utkarsh Ambudkar co-wrote and co-stars in the family-friendly hip-hop musical “World’s Best,” a simple but sweet story about a kid defying expectations and fighting to be heard. Manny Magnus plays Prem Patel, a junior high math whiz who lives with his loving but demanding mother Priya (Punam Patel), who has been widowed since Prem’s father Suresh (Ambudkar) died almost a decade ago. When Prem finds out his dad once wanted to be the world’s best rapper, he decides to follow in his footsteps — with some helpful advice from the old man himself, who appears as an imaginary friend.

Ambudkar and his co-writer Jamie King hew too close to teen underdog movie clichés, with Prem dealing with obnoxious bullies and intense social embarrassment while trying to find the courage to rap in public. But director Roshan Sethi gives the musical interludes some visual pop; and the songs are genuinely hooky. Ambudkar also brings a lot of warmth and feeling to the script and to his performance. The ghost of Suresh (or whatever he may be) delivers a clear message to his son about conquering fears, embracing identity and following dreams. These lessons may be corny, but when set to the right beat, they’re still catchy.

‘World’s Best.’ PG, for thematic elements and some language. 1 hour, 42 minutes. Available on Disney+.

‘Confidential Informant’

The cop drama “Confidential Informant” is one of those plugger genre pictures that puts a big star on its poster — Mel Gibson, in this case — although the actor only appears in a handful of scenes. Some B-pictures make that shoestring approach work. This one though is sketchy from start to finish, with nearly every scene feeling like it’s missing a few elements: like a larger cast, more set decoration, or a plot. Gibson plays a police chief supervising two troubled plainclothes detectives: Tom Moran (Dominic Purcell), a family man coping with cancer, and Mike Thornton (Nick Stahl), a veteran struggling with addiction. Director Michael Oblowitz (also a credited co-writer) nudges along a paltry story involving Moran and Thornton getting hounded by internal affairs after making bad deals with their sources on the street. “Confidential Informant” feels cribbed from dozens of other dirty cop stories, restaged with as little original detail as possible. It has the shape of a movie, but none of the stuff to make it move.


‘Confidential Informant.’ R, for language throughout, drug use, some violence and graphic nudity. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

“Pasolini 101” collects most of the 1960s films — features, documentaries and shorts — written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, a polymath Italian artist and intellectual whose work boldly engaged with religious faith, sexual desire and the enduring lessons of classical literature. The Criterion box set adds new and vintage documentaries as well as commentary tracks and interviews, all meant to contextualize an oeuvre as challenging as it is influential. The Criterion Collection

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“Makeup” is a thoughtfully offbeat odd couple dramedy, about two London roommates — the fussy French food critic Sacha (Hugo André, who directed the film) and the macho stockbroker Dan (Will Masheter, who co-wrote the script with André) — who aren’t as different as they may seem. Initially wary around each other, the two bond over Dan’s secret life as a cross-dressing burlesque performer, in this low-key but moving story about men finding a space to be themselves. Available on VOD