Art House Beat: Lord Love a Duck, It’s a Soundtrack for a Revolution & a Mid-August Lunch
Soundtrack for a Revolution (NWFF, April 30-May 5)
The soundtrack, while it strongly contributes to “Soundtrack for a Revolution” is not the primary component of this dynamic look back on the events, inspired by the non-violent rules of engagement as espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, leading to the end of segregation in the American South. Directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman have done an admirable job of blending living testimony with archival history to tell the story of those who, beginning with sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counters and culminating in a face-off with the local police on the Edmund Pettus bridge, took the first steps towards bridging the country’s racial divide. The film is a tribute to those people, both living and dead, as well as to Dr. King, whose spirit informs every frame.
The music of the civil rights movement is heard both in its original context and in revival by contemporary musicians. There are some odd selections, such as Wyclef Jean performing a Bob Marley-inspired take on Phil Ochs’ “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” which serves only as a lead-in to a segment on the battle for civil rights in Mississippi. Och’s song never was a street anthem, and had little to do with the church-based music from which the anthems developed. Some of the best scenes explore how the particular songs developed from general gospel songs to ones with a specific political intent. One qualm is the somewhat questionable practice of underscoring some sickening scenes of police brutality to uplifting church music. It is one thing to hear people sing “We Shall Overcome” while being arrested, but quite another to hear it tacked onto a newsreel of children getting brutalized.
Still, “Soundtrack for a Revolution” is a stirring, important document of a time showing our country both at its best and at its worse. In the end, it plays like a monument to Dr. King, which, in its way, is fitting to the time and the place and the struggle. But there were other black heroes who should also be remembered, including Harriet Tubman, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, and Fred Hampton, who once said, “You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” King was a dreamer, not a revolutionary, but his dream was part of a larger revolution, one that hasn’t stopped its singing.
Lord Love a Duck (Grand Illusion Cinema, April 30-May 6)
Aced out by “The Loved One,” which beat it to theatres by four months, “Lord Love A Duck” was both more offensive and tasteless than the former, but lacked the unifying gesture of a pet cemetery to tie up the package. As the high school Fausta who becomes progressively greedier with each granted wish, Tuesday Weld is the pinnacle of need and desire. The fifties were rife with psychological studies of hormonal teenagers, with “Splendor in the Grass” implying that celibacy at this age could lead to mental illness, but the sixties insist the mental illness was there before adolescence pushed it out through the pores. Weld’s Barbara Ann (named after two movie stars, Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan) incipient madness can be clearly seen in her parents. In a crazed bit of erotic perversity, her father responds to her sweater modeling with the fervidity of a moth-ball suitor. Meanwhile her bunny-tailed mother plants the eggs of nympho-itis into her daughter’s mini-skirted skull.
“But you promised to honor and obey me,” protests her husband. “I may have been hysterical at the ceremony, but I wasn’t stupid,” Barbara Ann retorts. All her wishes have been fulfilled by a seemingly asexual classmate Alan (Roddy McDowell), who has given himself the nickname Mollymauk (the South Pacific albatross of the title, or more likely a relative of Mephistopheles.)
Through much of the picture, Alan seems a precursor to the stereotype of the gay best friend that became an archetypical crutch to the situation comedies of the seventies and eighties, but the end of the film reveals a more conventional motive for his dedication to bringing happiness to the delectable Barbara Ann. George Axelrod is a better writer than director, with half a dozen classics among his two dozen produced scripts and only one other picture, and a dud at that, to his credit as a director. But his off the cuff and anything goes way of throwing things together add to “Lord Love a Duck’s” general sense of anarchy. The acting is terrific, with Weld in top form and Ruth Gordon just beginning to show the world how weird she could get.
Mid-August Lunch (Guild 45, April 30-May 6)
This is the last thing I expected from Gianna De Gregorio, one of the six scriptwriters who contributed to the mob epic “Gomorrah.” Slighter than slight, Mid-August Lunch” is 72 minutes spent with Gianni, a financially irresponsible man who lives with his mother and three other elderly ladies who he has agreed to look after while their sons leave town to cavort on Ferragosto, a Roman fertility holiday that is celebrated on August 15th. Being a fabulous cook, Gianni has no trouble entertaining at the table, but the idiosyncrasies of his guests take a while to iron out before the table is a completely happy one. First time director Gregorio plays the lead, and is not terribly charismatic as an actor. His sensitivity toward the ladies makes up for that, and in the end he delivers a sweet, subtle, and unsentimental tale of marginalized people who slowly and carefully widen the margins of their own lives to let others in.
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