Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Music Page 1 of 15

Connie plays 4 musical instruments and her daughter is a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville with a degree in Music Business and once worked for Taylor Swift. She may comment on concerts or reminisce on concerts of old.

Todd Haynes “Velvet Underground” Documentary Hits Festival Circuit

 

Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min.

Thursday, October 14, 7PM Premiere (AFS). Streaming on Apple+ on October 15th. (Also showing at Chicago International Film Festival).

 

“Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands. Far from your typical rock documentary, Haynes goes deep into the source inspiration of the sounds The Velvets would be known for, while tracking and connecting the band’s rise with and through New York’s independent and experimental film scene.

Haynes weaves a cinematic portrait of a band that was essentially birthed and defined through cinematic ideas and images, using footage from the films of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Shirley Clarke, among others; and interviews past and present with those who experienced the brief reign of The Velvet Underground.”

According to Wikipedia, “Rolling Stones” named the “most influential bands of the Sixties” and the bands ranked first, second and third were the Beatles, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Velvet Underground.

As a sixties music afficionado, I was “in” to music, especially music from my own sixties generation. I subscribe to “Rolling Stone” and brought back a British record release of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, carried home from my time as an exchange student abroad. (The record was slightly different from the U.S. release.)

In England and Europe I took in James Brown and the Famous Flames in Paris and bought the U.K. version of the Beatles seminal “Sergeant Pepper” record breakthrough. When in England I attended a concert at the Savoy Hotel, a posh hotel in Birmingham, with a light show, at which an unknown band that had no record contract (yet) appeared. That band was Pink Floyd.

 

So, how did I miss out on being a fan of the Velvet Underground in their hey-day?

 

Now that I’ve seen Todd Haynes compilation of old photos and interviews with original members of the group and heard some of the songs, I think I know why I didn’t jump on the Velvet Underground bandwagon at the time. They were hugely experimental and are credited with giving birth to the punk movement and the New Wave movement many years later. With Welsh band member John Cale (who is interviewed prominently in the documentary) playing the viola and supposedly obsessed with sounds that are droning noises (like a refrigerator humming), that doesn’t sound much like the Beatles or James Brown, does it? It didn’t, to me. Then or now. To show how film was supposed to have merged with music (years before it did), some YouTube links like Nico’s singing with Warhol’s art in the background, should perhaps be included in this documentary. I’ve given you a couple video links.

 

I did not become very aware of the Velvet Underground until David Letterman featured Lou Reed on his Late Night talk show many years later. Since Lou Reed has been dead since 2013, these appearances must have happened 9 or 10 years ago, but I remember that Reed was always held forth by Letterman as the King of Cool, sitting in with Paul Schaffer and the Late Night Orchestra.Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once, but two times, once as a member of the Velvet Underground and once for his own music, which continued for many years after the break-up of the group. His big hit was “Walk on the Wild Side.”

 

In fact, as one learns from reading up on the Velvet Underground (but not really from this documentary), the parting of the ways for this band came about when Reed felt that Cale had to go. And the primary reason Lou Reed felt that John Cale needed to go in one direction while Lou Reed went in another was that Cale, an odd bird from the first (a weirdly-coiffed intellectual Welsh guy who played the viola), was taking their music in a fairly eccentric and probably unmarketable experimental direction. Lou Reed had already had a job turning out 99 cent songs for Pickwick Records and he knew how to craft a tune that didn’t sound like the drone of a refrigerator. He also wanted to become a well-known star; he needed to do that on his own.

 

“Walk on the Wild Side” was written by Reed for use in the film version of Nelson Algren’s book of the same name. That book and that movie have a special place in my heart, because I sat across from Nelson Algren at the Englert Theater in Iowa City (Iowa) watching Nelson Algren watch the Jane Fonda/Laurence Harvey movie version of his work. I was glued to watching the author watch his book be interpreted onscreen by Hollywood. The song played over the film credits, if I remember correctly, and it had a haunting, beatnik vibe, as, indeed, Lou Reed represented throughout his life and work.

 

The other tune of Reed’s that broke through my consciousness was the song chosen for the movie “Juno” called Sticking with You,” which I remember thinking was a good choice for the theme of the unwed pregnant teenager who decides to stick with the young man (Michael Cera) who impregnated her, who was her best friend, if not technically her “boyfriend.” In keeping with the entire tone of the Velvet Underground and its pushing of boundaries, it seems somehow fitting that the female lead of “Juno,” Ellen Page is now Elliot Page. Here is a version of the song from that movie, sung by the Moldy Peaches:

 

 I had to read up on Lou Reed to be able to interpret and fully understand this Velvet Underground film tribute.

 

I learned that Reed took listeners of his songs on unsettling journeys that detailed his drug use or the electro-shock therapy that his parents put him through. Reed always said he thought his parents made him undergo the shocking (no pun intended) therapy to “cure” him of what might have been his homosexuality. One source says he lived with a trans-sexual individual for three years, but he was also married three times, so I’m not sure if the homosexuality was a correct diagnosis—maybe pan-sexual?— but he was definitely a drug addict and an alcoholic for much of his life and wrote about it in songs like “Heroin.”

 

There was a story told of a falling out between Reed and one of his biggest supporters, David Bowie, who told Reed he was going to have to straighten himself out. Lou had gone on a tour of England and was so strung out that he never took the stage, causing the promoters to hire Ike & Tina Turner to fill his spot. There was talk of Reed, himself, finally deciding to quit using drugs in about 1979. He had contracted hepatitis early in the years of his intravenous drug use and he died shortly after a liver transplant in 2013, living less than 6 months after that treatment.

 

But if Lou Reed—the band’s lead vocalist and its most successful member—is gone, we have John Cale telling us of the years when Andy Warhol was the band’s manager (1966) and pictures from Andy’s work would be projected onto the stage behind the band. Warhol had decided the Velvet Underground would be the Factory’s “house band.” The band toured wearing dark sunglasses because there were so many things happening onstage at times, including impromptu composing of songs  in a sort of improvisational music fashion, and so much happening with lights, etc.. that the sunglasses were to help the band.

 

The female drummer of the Velvet Underground, Maureen “Mo” Tucker, didn’t like cymbals and stood up to play drums in a sort of tom-tom fashion. She is also featured on the documentary talking about her time with the band. Angus MacLise was the drummer and then Moe Tucker in 1965. The band reunited in 1993 and for their 1996 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were primarily done as an entity by 1970.

 

Various voices tell us that they had to change their name a lot “because we were bad” and that “With Lou we were going to blaze a trail, which we eventually did.” One woman even gives an impromptu dance of “The Ostrich,” which Reed wrote as a satire on the ridiculous dance tunes of the day, like the Monkey.

 

Reed, himself, was described as insecure and angry. Shelley Corwin said he was “angry at people for rejecting him,” which seemed odd, since he was always seen as Mr. Cool and managed to keep a career going even after associates like Tony Conrad tell us, in the documentary, “Lou was always falling down, was sick, and had to be raced to the hospital numerous times.”

 

A large part of the documentary shows how Andy Warhol’s P.R. “juice” would have helped them to succeed, and Andy decided that Nico—a gorgeous blonde—would sing. She couldn’t really sing all that well, so it was short-lived, but she was certainly very pretty and would draw a crowd. (She had a bit part in “La Dolce Vita” as one of the girls behind Anita Eckberg in that Italian film.)

 

Talking heads like Jackson Browne and John Waters pass judgment on the Velvet Underground and Lou is quoted as saying, of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” “That’s what I wanted to do, except with a drum and a guitar.”

 

I was at a poetry reading at Berkeley once where Allen Ginsberg came out, sat on the floor with finger cymbals, and mumbled incoherently. He was so stoned that they finally had to go get the janitor to physically carry him off-stage. And th-th-th-that’s entertainment, Folks! Reminds me of the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Ginsberg’s was being wasted that night in the summer of 1965, and Lou Reed’s talent was wasted for many years until he decided to depart from the Velvet Underground and clean up his personal act.  They never “shocked the gayness out of him,” but whatever measure of gayness he possessed seems to have been mixed with a fair amount of heterosexuality, as well. [Remember: in those days, you could get 20 years in prison for being gay. It was not embraced by society.]

 

I enjoyed the old clips of Bo Diddly and Mick Jagger, the pictures or film of Andy Warhol and his coterie of avant garde followers.

 

I was less impressed by drummer Maureen Tucker or the viola-playing John Cale, original members of the band.

 

I enjoyed reading the story of a band member (Angus MacLise?) who never showed up on time for practices and/or appearances. Once, he showed up half an hour late for a performance, so, after everyone else had quit playing, he stayed onstage and played solo for half an hour to make up for his lateness.

 

Obviously, these disparate personalities—Reed’s included—were quirky and different and, yes, creative.  All contributed to the assessment that the Velvet Underground, as Todd Haynes’ documentary testifies, was “One of the most influential bands in rock, underground, experimental and alternative music.”

 

I was hopelessly square (apparently) and from Iowa and preferred the Beatles (seen “live” at the San Francisco Cow Palace in 1965) and James Brown and the Famous Flames (seen “live” in Paris in 1967) and seem to have learned what little I knew about Lou Reed and friends from David Letterman and from research done for this documentary.

 

If you’re a big Velvet Underground fan you’re going to probably be older than I am old, which, since I’ve been reviewing non-stop since 1970, means you are not “young.” To follow John Cale’s “Velvet Underground” you had to like often discordant sounds presented as “music,” but, hey! To each his (or her) own. You’ll love this slice of sixties Americana if you were “in” to the Velvet Underground’s music way back when. It’s easy to see the genesis of Bob Dylan, MTV, music videos and so many other staples of today’s music scene.

 How many Velvet Underground fans remain in 2021? Judging from the rave reviews at Cannes (and elsewhere), more than you’d think.

“Annette” with Adam Driver & Marion Cotillard Sings Its Way Into Cannes’ Awards

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard portray a celebrity couple in “Annette.” She’s a world-famous opera singer and he is a comedian billed as “The Ape of God.” Driver is also an executive producer of the film helmed by Leos Carax, who is known as an avant garde French filmmaker. Carax  previously directed the Cannes favorite “Holy Motors,” a big Cannes favorite, which I found almost unwatchable.

“Annette” follows along in this tradition of  very weird films from Leos Carax. It is based on the dialogue and music of the group known as Spark, brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Much of the dialogue is sung, which has been done before both on television in a police sit-com directed by Steven Bochco (“Cop Rock”) where all of the dialogue was sung, and in a film featuring Anna Kendrick directed by Richard Lagravenese, “The Last Five Years.” And let’s not forget about operas like Bizet’s “Carmen.”

The singing is not particularly good, but Adam Driver likes to sing, as proven by the completely unnecessary singing he did in “Marriage Story.” The plot has Marion Cotillard’s character of Ann Defrasnoux cast as a world famous opera singer whose career is going great guns. Plus, she and Henry (Driver) are crazy about each other, although she was dating her accompanist (Simon Helberg) before she met Henry.

Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) is a misogynistic comic who goes onstage clad only in black BVDs and a green bathrobe and rants, usually in a darkly humorous vein. At first, like Kanye, Henry McHenry’s schtick in his act (known as “The Ape of God”) is considered cool and chill by his audiences. His brand of toxic masculinity, blending intimate, often obnoxious confessions with a crude onstage persona (a la Andrew “Dice” Clay or Donald J. Trump), has the audience cheering. But things change.

Henry’s audience turns on him and his fortunes as a comedian suffer. The fall from favor that Henry experiences made me think of a stand-up routine I once suffered through with a late-in-the-game ailing George Carlin, where he went on a supposedly comic rant in a routine about suicide. Patrons were streaming for the exits. So, that is, roughly, what happens to Henry, who finally wears out his welcome like many insult comics.

“Annette” turns into the plot of “A Star Is Born” when Ann’s opera career continues to thrive while Henry’s fans reject his “Ape of God” appearances. This sets up problems in a marriage and the early crooning of their song (“We Love Each Other So Much”) now gives way to a fall from grace, with Henry drinking too much and a melodramatically staged storm leading to tragedy.

But Annette, the daughter that Ann gives birth to, is still there for Henry to care for. Henry begins to shirk that responsibility more and more, leaving paternal duties to Ann’s accompanist-turned-orchestra director, well played by Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”).

Somewhere in the second half of this 2 hour and 21 minute film Henry—who has discovered that Baby Annette has inherited her mother’s fantastic vocal instrument—decides to exploit his young daughter’s talent by having her tour non-stop singing for stadium-sized audiences. The part of Annette from birth until age five is played by an obvious wooden dummy throughout the first three-fourths of the film. That is very odd, but so is the film. Only in the final prison scenes of the movie do we get a real live girl, Devyn McDowell, who sings her part opposite Adam Driver as he languishes in jail.

The look-alike redhead is only five years old and she is terrific! I would have liked the film to be set up in such a way that we could have had more of Devyn. She is one of the best things in it. The five-year-old traveled to Belgium and Germany for filming and “Annette” not only won the Best Soundtrack and Best Director awards at Cannes, it was the opening night film. At 6 years old, Devyn also worked with the talented, award winning cast of Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in the anticipated thriller, “The Good Nurse”, directed by Tobias Lindholm

Ultimately, we learn that the most important thing in life is to have someone to love (and vice versa). The singing in the prison sequence between Baby Annette and her father isn’t as distracting as elsewhere in the film. Devyn actually is very, very good for a five-year-old and the message of the film is pretty impressive. As the New York Times critic said, “The final reckoning is as devastating as anything I’ve seen in a recent film,” calling the movie depiction of megalomania “feverishly imaginative.” It earned the film a 5-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

I was burned by “Holy Motors,”one of Leos Carax’s early films (2012). This one is just as odd, but has a better message and better acting.

This film is overlong, has average singers singing the dialogue, and uses a theme we’ve seen done many times previously, but it was far more entertaining than I anticipated it would be.

Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in “RESPECT”

The first cut of “Respect,” Jennifer Hudson’s starring role as Aretha Franklin, ran 5 and ½ hours. The final cut runs 2 hours and 25 minutes. Both of those times for this movie are too long.

It was nice that a female director and screenwriter were involved in the project, but Director Liesl Tommy is only known for “Jessica Jones” (2015) and “The Walking Dead” (2010). At the risk of being  snarky, this film has about as much energy as “The Walking Dead.” It drags to the point that even Jennifer Hudson’s undeniable vocal talent cannot sustain interest in this overlong bio-pic.

Broadway theater director Liesl Tommy is working from a script by screenwriter Tracey Scott Wilson (Producer of “The Americans” in 2013). Forest Whitaker plays Aretha’s domineering father.Mary Jane Blige has a role playing Dinah Washington and Marc Maron (“G.L.O.W.”) plays Jerry Wexler. Skye Dakota Turner plays Aretha as a child and is very good. These competent actors do as well as they can with a script and a film that is simply a showcase for Hudson singing Franklin’s hits, one by one. For that, you can simply play her records/CDs. This is a bio-pic that is supposed to be telling us about Aretha Franklin’s life, but  one which glosses over many essential threads of the Queen of Soul.

There is an allusion to a childhood marked by sexual abuse, with Aretha giving birth to the first of four children at age 12 in 1955 and a second child at age 14 in 1957. Who was the father of child #1 and child #2? Franklin did not like to talk about her children during interviews and various answers as to who sired child #1 exist (one possible father was named in a handwritten will found after Aretha’ death and was the man who became her first husband, but other potential fathers were mentioned.)

Since the first two children were essentially products of rape, statutory or outright, Aretha’s reluctance to talk about those offspring is understandable. Marlon Wayans gets the role of the man who enters Aretha’s childhood bedroom when she is very young and molests her. Later, in the film’s version, Edward Jordan (Marlon’s character) and Aretha marry and he becomes the father of her second child, born when Aretha is 14.

But the children are barely seen. “Who is raising these four children?” Yes, we can look this up elsewhere, but even there the answers make it sound like a floating support network of random friends and family raised Aretha Franklin’s four sons.

Likewise, in looking up information about her mother, who divorced Clarence Franklin because of his numerous infidelities, we learn that she died of a heart attack before Aretha’s 10th birthday. Yet, in the film, Aretha is shown as a young woman of at least twenty preparing a meal for friends and bragging about how good her cooking is when the phone rings and word comes of the death of her mom. The movie doesn’t even have the news being given directly to Aretha, but to whomever answered the phone. There is no clear cause of death passed on to Aretha by the answerer, nor to us, the audience. We can find out (by looking it up) that she died of a heart attack, but shouldn’t a bio-pic mention what killed the subject’s mom? And shouldn’t it have been more accurate concerning how old or young Aretha was when her mom died?

Aretha was born in Memphis, Tennessee.  Here is the house that is said to be her birthplace.

Aretha Franklin’s birth place in Memphis.

In watching the film and watching the celebrities who are said to have dropped by Aretha’s childhood home (and are pictured there during a Saturday night party), the home certainly must have been one that followed the Franklins’ move to New York (and, later, Encino, California and Bloomington Hills outside Detroit.) Aretha’s father, Clarence, did do well as a fellow preacher and contemporary of Martin Luther King. He was known as “the man with the Million Dollar Voice.” But the Memphis house pictured is a far cry from the comfortable old house depicted in the movie.

In an interview in the Chicago “Tribune” Hudson said, of her female director, “I love that Liesl was brave enough to allow things to breathe.” She remarked on how the actors chosen to play their roles were also musicians.

I don’t know what Hudson meant by “allowed it to breathe” but the inaccuracies (like when Aretha’s mother died) and the failure to address such things as “Who’s minding Aretha’s kids?” or “Who shot Clarence, Sr.., and why?” are not small lapses of judgment or tiny inconsequential matters in Aretha Franklin’s life.

Losing your mother at age ten is traumatic. We could make a guess that Aretha’s becoming a mother, herself, just two years later could be a consequence of such early loss. Her father—-“the man with the million-dollar voice”—-died of his wounds (shot during a break-in at the house) in 1984, when Aretha was 42. The phone call that came to Aretha to tell her about her mother’s death, looks almost like the director got confused about which parent died when. (The woman setting the table when that unsettling news reaches her looked closer to 42 than 10.)

There are allusions in the film to Aretha and her preacher father traveling together, with him preaching and her singing, but we never see any of that early beginning outside of his church. The entire flow of the screenplay, based on a Callie Khouri story, lurches along like that.

Aretha wanted Jennifer Hudson to play her in a bio-pic;  they began meeting right after “Dreamgirls,” so it has been 15 years of waiting for Jennifer, a Chicago girl, to get to play the Queen of Soul.

We waited so long for so little.

“Cruella” Success Sets Up Sequels for the “101 Dalmatians” Villainess

Cruella De Vil, the big budget Disney picture starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, debuted on May 28th and screams “Sequel” from the moment the last scene fades. Director Craig Gillespie has pulled out all the fashion stops on this one, and it shows.

In the last 23 hours, the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed those sequel suspicions, with these remarks:

“We are very pleased with Cruella’s box office success, in conjunction with its strong Disney+ Premier Access performance to date,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has been incredibly well received by audiences around the world, with a 97% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to A’s in every demographic from CinemaScore on opening weekend, ranking it among the most popular of our live-action re-imaginings. We look forward to a long run as audiences continue to enjoy this fantastic film.”

Emma Stone in Cruella (2021)   Everything I had read about the performances (Top Notch), the soundtrack (great), and the costuming (exceptionally great) was confirmed. There is even an acceptable backstory for how Cruella got so cruel, crafted by  Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly  Marsel and Steve Zissin.  My remark to my companion, as we left the theater, was that it was obvious there would be a sequel that would pick up where this film left off. And I was right.

Cruella is a 2021 American crime comedy film based on the character Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Walt Disney‘s 1961 animated film adaptation.

Unlike other films that have spun off from animated beginnings, this one seems to have more interest in developing sympathy for the devil that Cruella becomes (one of the many soundtrack choices from the Rolling Stones that is heard throughout the action). Audiences didn’t prefer the film versions of Disney offerings like “The Lion King” to the Disney animated pictures, but this one may be the exception to that rule. That song, by the way (“Sympathy for the Devil) released on November 1st, 1968, is but one of the many 70s punk songs like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” “Time of the Season,” “Whole Lotta’ Love,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” and on and on. The music is a large part of the success of the film.

COSTUMING & SETS

Cruella (2021)Emma Thompson in Cruella (2021)Cruella (2021)Emma Thompson in Cruella (2021)Emma Stone, Joel Fry, and Paul Walter Hauser in Cruella (2021)

So are the fashions and with a $200 million budget, you see some over-the-top fashions. “Screen Rant” reports that the film is far pricier than most Disney re-imagined fare. Cruella’s production budget is reportedly $200 million, making it a very expensive endeavor. That price tag is higher than other Disney live-action re-imaginings like Aladdin ($183 million)Beauty and the Beast ($160 million), and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ($185 million). Cruella’s budget is more in line with what one would expect from a tentpole comic book adaptation. Disney’s upcoming Black Widow also cost around $200 million to make.”

So, we have established that the soundtrack and costuming and make-up will scream “Oscar” in March.

What about the acting?

ACTING: Competent, as one would expect from the two Emmas (Stone and Thompson). Also doing good work are the supporting players, namely Joel Fry as Jasper and Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, with a stylish turn from John McRea as Artie and Billie Gadson as the 5-year-old Estella/Cruella. Mark Strong also has a pivotal role as John the valet, a role that reminds of something Stanley Tucci would play.

 

Joel Fry in Cruella (2021)Cruella (2021)

PLOT:

Set in 1970s London  amidst the emergence of the punk rock movement, Cruella traces the trajectory of Estella (Stone), and the tragedies and ecstasies that mark her formative years. Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham) plays a seminal role in shaping her worldview. Despite being a loving and nurturing presence, Catherine often encourages Estella to “fit in” in order to stay out of trouble. Estella is viewed as somewhat different for her beautiful, black-and-white ombré hair and her  rebellious nature. As Estella defends herself in talking about the mother/daughter relationship, “It wasn’t her I was challenging; it was the world.”

As the film progresses, our heroine (Emma Stone) declares, “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble.” At first, she is constrained by her loving mother (Emily Beecham) from realizing her full potential in either field. The pair then begin a journey to London, where Estella hopes to become a fashion designer.

Derailed along the way by circumstances beyond their control (“Happy accidents can change the whole course of your life…Happy may not be the right word.”), Estella ends up living and working in an abandoned building, alongside a couple of childhood grifters straight out of a Dickens novel, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser).

Top cast

One of the fast friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) submits an application for Estella to work at the Liberty House Fashion Firm that she so admires. That opens the door to frustration, followed by eventual fame and fortune when the Baroness (Emma Thompson)—THE arbiter of fashion in the swinging 70s scene— sees Estella’s potential and hires her to be her assistant, ripping off her originality and vision at every turn while lording it over the rest of society.

Using fantastic settings like the Tower of London (yes, THAT Tower of London) doesn’t hurt the film at all. Gorgeous mansions and even more gorgeous gowns are a treat for the eye.

As the plot thickens, Estella realizes, “I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I’m Cruella. Born bad and a little bit mad.” She adds, “People do need a villain to believe in, so I’m happy to fit the bill.”

We’ll be seeing a lot more of Cruella in future films, and I hope the films are as entertaining as this one was.

“Beatles,” Live: And You Are There (And I Was)

Dave Grohl & Foo Fighters Respond to “We Are the 1,000” Documentary with Concert in Cesena, Italy

The heartwarming story of a small Italian town (Cesena, Italy) and its wacky crusade to convince Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come give a concert in that town is the central drama of “We Are the Thousand,” a film written and directed by Anita Rivaroli.

Even more inspiring in this story about Fabio Zaffagnini’s creative approach to the problem of getting one of the most popular bands on the planet to visit a town of roughly 100,000 residents is the joy that the participants created in organizing and launching their hare-brained project and, in the process, creating an enduring musical monster.

Make no mistake: this was a Herculean task that the team worked on for over a year.

“We Are the Thousand” (SXSW Photo).

The idea was to gather 1,000 musicians and have them all form one big band. The first (and only) song they were all going to try to learn to play together was Grohl’s “Learning to Fly.” The crew set to work crowdfunding and trying to raise the roughly 40,000 Euros that was the bare minimum needed for the project. Among the problems: not enough headsets for everyone and no money to buy them.

There also was the matter of the distance that sound travels and how the members of the group would manage to play in synch, when they were going to be filling the Parco Ippodrome, a large outdoor race track area near Cesena. That was when one of the organizers thought up the idea of a visual metronome, like a stoplight, which the drummers could see and, therefore, keep on the beat together.

Musicians from all over Italy and Europe, hearing about the project, sent in videos of themselves playing their instruments or singing. From those rough “auditions” the 1,000 were selected and—at their own expense—told to show up on July 26, 2015, to be part of the event.

The “Rockin’ 1000” were from all walks of life: truck drivers, doctors, perfume shop workers, you name it. One said, “We’re forced to live a normal life to support our dreams. So we keep our shitty jobs to keep our dreams alive.” Another shared, “It was about achieving something.” Termed “a sociological and musical experiment,” the band is shown taking a pledge not to showboat and/or show off during the practice sessions. Then they begin rehearsing.

The drummers, all drumming in unison, “felt like an earthquake” said one participant. Another said it was as though a shock wave had gone through the arena, as the musicians were “flooded by sound.” And the sound is pretty good!  As the organizers said, “An engine like this can take us a long way.” Another added, “It gave me goosebumps in every language in the world.”

With the guitars, singers and drummers playing their hearts out—(although cautioned, “Don’t hit the drums like a madman!”)— the one thousand became “the biggest rock band on Earth.” Said one, “What we did here is just a huge, huge miracle.”

After the video shoot of the gigantic rock band performing at Cesena’s racetrack, the plan was to post the video, asking Grohl and the Foo Fighters to come play a concert in the small Italian town. Once posted, on July 30th,—four days after the performance— the video began to climb in hits: 10 million hits—-15 million hits in 3 days—-26 million hits. It finally got Dave Grohl’s attention. He explains (in Italian), “Well, now we have to come. It’s f***ing amazing!”

“We Are the Thousand” (SXSW Photo).

There are then the scenes with the band members attending a Foo Fighters concert and, for some of them, playing alongside Dave Grohl. Fabio’s crowd-surfing to the stage was one of the highlights of the film. Actually getting to meet their idols is obviously life-changing for the band members. “It changed the spiritual current. It changed how people think,” said one.

Fabio from Fasignano does not disappoint, continuing his efforts to maintain “the biggest rock band on Earth” and entering the arena dressed in a robe that says, “The Italian Stallion” (a nod to the movie “Rocky”).

The extreme joy of producing music with others is not to be under-estimated. Renato—a participant from Perugio who had just received a bad health diagnosis—described the act of playing in the band as better than any therapy he might have asked for and, one year later, is still playing with “the Rockin’ 1000.”

Cinematographer Pasquale Remea has captured the elation of the crowd and the joy in human community that music can and does provide. It’s a feeling that those who have participated in a band or an orchestra or a chorus or a choir can relate to and even some of our most influential films have acknowledged that music is “the universal language,” as Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” testified.

This documentary (in Italian, with English subtitles) is a feel-good film for our time. It goes on well past the triumphant Dave Grohl scenes to show that the sheer joy of producing harmony is as euphoric, in its own way, as making a dream come true through hard work, creative thinking, dedication, and an influential video that achieved its goal.

 

James Corden, on January 19th, Salutes the Inauguration with “One More Day” from Les Mis

Sergio Rizzuto on September 10th “Weekly Wilson” Podcast

Sergio Rizzuto as The Pardoner in “Hard Kill,” opening 8/25

I passed the halfway point in podcasting tonight, with the 27th show in a year-long commitment on the Bold Brave Media Global Network. The show is entitled Weekly Wilson, just like my blog, and, aside from not being able to do a show after the derechco of August 10th knocked out my Internet and our power, things have run fairly smoothly…..until tonight.

My sincerest apologies to guest Sergio Razzuto, who was a trooper in soldiering through the several times we were knocked off the air by “technical difficulties.” Said Perry, the engineer, ‘Don’t let the listeners know.” Uh…..do you think the several minutes of dead air might be a give-away? I will say that this was the very first time we’ve actually been knocked off the air while the show was in progress.

The show uses Skype and, for some reason, we were hung out to dry at least twice.

It was truly a rough evening on the air waves. I’m sure poor Sergio felt the same way!

The topics we covered were interesting. Sergio—who is related distantly to famous baseball player Phil Razzuto—was an interesting, articulate guest, who has credits as actor (17), producer (22), director (2), writer (2), cinematographer (1) and music (1). He has been acting since 2017, beginning with a small role on the TV series “Billions.”

There were also technical glitches with the sound quality that we traced to the speaker phone on Sergio’s cell phone, which we were able to address once we got on the air and stayed on the air.

Sergio Rizzuto, co-star of “Hard Kill.”

A true Renaissance man, Sergio shared that he possesses a restless creative spirit. He was awarded the ICE Award by Villanova for his interesting business ideas. He has also had a café in Brick, NJ (now closed); Fit Society with 1.5 million followers; E-MC Clothing, Buyu—an app described as a cross between Amazon and Craigslist, a clothing line with a Neil DeGrasse Tyson tie-in, and interest in all facets of the film-making process. Next up for Sergio is the starring role in a movie based on the real-life UFC welterweight fighter Josh Sammon who died, tragically, at age 28. On a completely different topic, Sergio has the ability to master a Rubik’s cube in something like 27 seconds. (Yes, it was in the movie).

Sergio played The Pardoner in the new Bruce Willis/Jesse Metcalfe movie “Hard Kill.” My thanks to him for slogging through the technical issues with me Thursday night. If, after reading my review here, you are interested in seeing a Bruce Willis popcorn movie, it is available on Amazon Prime and elsewhere.

Suzi Quatro as Leather Tuscadero on “Happy Days”

Suzi Quatro: “If You Can’t Give Me Love”

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