Friday, October 03, 2008

Talkin' 'Bout A Generation Gap With 2 New Release DVDs

A couple of new DVDs to review - one that has barely legal kids singing punk rock and the other features really old folks way past retirement singing, yes, punk rock. Let’s start with the old folks and then move backwards:

YOUNG@HEART (Dir. Stephen Walker, 2007)

I was hesitant about this indie documentary about a vocal group comprised of 22 senior citizens singing pop, rock, and punk songs.

I mean, though this is a chorus that has been at it with different members for the last 20 years the prospect of hip-ifying old folks brings to mind Pepsi commercials with rapping GrandMas or lame cheap comedies that have elders speaking in hip-hop jargon made me think this was a possible gimmicky cringe-fest. 

Well, moments into YOUNG@HEART those short-sighted fears disappeared as choral director Bob Cillman introduced his singers to a song they’ve never heard by a band they’ve likely never heard of: “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth.

They don’t seem to take to it (sideline sound bite interviews show that most of these folks prefer classical music and show-tunes) but Cillman presses on. They are more receptive to Jame's Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” though the rhythm and getting the lines right throws members Dora Morrow and Stan Goldman as they prepare for a concert in their hometown of Northampton, New England. 

The day to day toll of getting old hinders some rehearsals as the beloved Bob Salvini’s health worsens and his duet partner Fred Knittle struggles with his absence. They all struggle with the 71 “cans” in Allen Toussaint's “Yes We Can Can” which frustrates Cillman who threatens to scrap the number but nobody wants to give up.

Not giving up is the-show-must-go-on bottom line here as these resiliant and enthusiastic folks do their best to get their vocals right and find harmony with each other knowing that every extra day to do so is a gift. At times cheesy (I could do without the flashy music video sequences for the Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere” and the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive”) but mostly a funny and heartfelt ride, it's impossible to not be emotional when watching the climatic concert finale of this film. 

Knittle’s soft voiced emotional version of Coldplay's “Fix Me” (pictured on the left) ripples through the hall with the light glimmering off the tears in the eyes of people of all ages. It’s not a spoiler to tell that they nail every “can” in Toussaint’s punchy positive action anthem; it’s really just an enhancement to my endorsement.

And now a DVD (complete with 80’s-style promotional buttons!) that I was very happy to win from a contest on one of my favorite film/music blogs ThePlaylist: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) What?!!? You’ve never heard of this film? Well, you’re not alone - very few have seen it as it has never before had a proper home video release and has only has the occasional revival screening. 

With this new DVD release that will likely change because I think they'll be plenty of people who will want to see a 15 year old Diane Lane as the singer, songwriter, and manager of the Stains - a punk trio rounded out by a 13 year old Laura Dern and the still unknown Marin Kanter.

Virtually unrecognizable from his recent roles in THE DEPARTED and the last INDIANA JONES flick is Ray Winstone with a wardrobe cribbed from Joe Strummer as the leader of the Looters, a British punk band that tours with the Stains. Real life punkers Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols along with Paul Simonon of the Clash make up Winstone’s band who go head to head with an aging hard pyschedelic rock band named The Metal Corpses fronted by Fee Waybill of the Tubes.

After learning some sleazy lessons about life on the road and a drastic change in their appearance (mostly see-through blouses and white stripes in their hair) The Stains gain a following not from their talent (a few performances prove that they have none) but from some TV appearances. 

“Because they were on TV” one of their minions explains to a smirking overly ambitious newslady (Cynthia Sykes). “I'm perfect but nobody in this shit-hole gets me because I don’t put out!” Lane yells and it becomes a mantra of sorts to the copycat crowd that comes calling. “I don’t put out” doesn't necessarily mean what you’d think - she does engage in sex but it’s on her own terms or something like that. Not sure if the movie makes a compelling case for that but what does it matter?

Director Lou Adler, whose only feature film before this (and after) was CHEECH AND CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE which says a lot, was no visual stylist and the film is certainly badly edited.

Reportedely its original screenplay was so mangled that writer Nancy Dowd took the pseudonym Rob Morton as credit but as it stands it’s still such a scrappy, yet very guilty, pleasure. The DVD features a very funny commentary by Lane and Dern who seem so amused, and many times embarrassed, to be watching it again. Dern remarks: “We were just babies”. Lane: “I thought I was so experienced!”

With its sloppy unbalance between a gritty social statement and ABC afterschool special aesthetics, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABOULOUS STAINS is simply great schlocky fun. Thematically this exists in the weird realm between such a lofty loved work as Elia Kazan’s A FACE IN THE CROWD and the 80’s tacky yet still very much loved THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN. For a could-be cult classic that’s not a bad place to be.

More later...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hm... love this thread :))