Gogol Bordello Non-Stop will probably play better to those already well acquainted with the music of the titular band, an NYC-based group that performs “gypsy punk” and in no way fails to bring the altogether insane eclecticism implied in such a genre title. This documentary is an earnest, if uneven, attempt to contextualize their lightning-in-a-bottle energy with the history that informs their political flair, a musical presence instantly made tangible during any one of several included performances of “Immigrant Punk.” Once five, now nine members (including dancers), Gogol Bordello (says the press kit regarding their name: “refers to the 19th-century Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol and the institution of the bordello with its connotations of erotic pleasure and street vulgarity”) is certainly among the most distinctive groups in recent memory, not only boundlessly creative from a musical level (they don’t use a bass, though the accordion and violin are ever-present in their sound) but also unparalleled in their physical presence on the stage.
Most of the best sequences simply give over to footage of Gogol’s live performances, with lead singer Eugene Hütz often seen inviting audience members on stage for any number of gags or creative involvements. Their highly theatrical energy and wild choreography (often used in service of storytelling) is usually intoxicating, while low-key interview footage lends lip service to the social vantage points that inform the act; mostly band members peppered with the occasional colleague shout-out, this material seems a wise inclusion until it becomes apparent that these dyed-in-the-wool artists are far more eloquent and articulate in their musical endeavors than in their interviews.
By the final half-hour, the film just about abandons any sense of historical narrative (the overall background of each band member proves only surface-deep, like it was being pitched to a high school history class), only to then drop the torch on showcasing the band’s gonzo antics, too often diffusing their accrued energy by shifting the focus to pointless backstage horseplay. A quote read aloud from a review of the band early in the film perfectly describes the act seen all too briefly therein: “The sight was obscene, but it had some unknown aesthetic to it.” Similarly memorable is the band’s slogan: “Think Globally, Fuck Locally.”