Sunday, October 07, 2007

Spout #6: Great World Of Sound

Fame is an enticing drug, and it's attainment figures into the daydream of billions. In fact, anyone saying they don't want fame is either lying, or up to no good. Oh, I don't mean to say everyone wants to be Britney Spears or Leonardo Dicaprio, I mean that everyone wants to be noticed for their talents. To paraphrase Tyler Durden in Fight Club(I know, it's been done to death, but it fits here); we've all been raised to believe we'll be rock stars, or astronauts, or president of the United States, but for most of us, that stuff ain't gonna happen. That doesn't stop our dreaming, although it may stop our actually working for it. There are plenty of people out there playing on these dreams, shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent, and even Big Brother or Survivor style reality shows, all play on humanity's desire to be famous without too much exertion or talent. In fact, lack of talent is prized almost as much as actual talent in some cases, with all of the really hideously untalented American Idol contestants getting more airplay than some actual winners(how many CDs does William Hung have now? AND an Arrested Development cameo?!). This desire for fame, and the willingness to prey on that desire, informs almost every character you meet in Great World Of Sound, the excellent feature debut from writer/director Craig Zobel.

Martin(Pat Healy) answers an ad looking for people to join the Great World of Sound production company as talent scouts, travelling the country to find new talent. Martin is a man with no real goals in life, forever latching onto whatever his girlfriend at the time is into, and basing his life around that. Eager to find something to define himself within his new marriage, he leaps headfirst into this job. Perhaps that explains why he is so blind to the fact that Great World of Sound Productions is a scam, an old school grift that dates back to at least the early 20th century. Now, I'm not giving anything away by saying GWS is a scam, I knew it right from the opening scene at Martin's interview, and you'll know it, too. In fact, the big question is; Why doesn't anyone else seem to know it? For a seemingly with it, intelligent guy, Martin is pretty slow on the uptake. Or maybe that's another jab at American fame-seeking, that our quest for glory will blind us to all of the moral compromises we make along the way.

At the training seminar for GWS, Martin meets up with Clarence, a middle aged black man who is looking for a way out of manual labor so he can provide for his six(unseen) children. They bond quickly, and the early half of this movie plays like a particularly dry episode of The Office, with quiet, awkwardly hilarious moments and longer than normal camera takes. Sent on the road to scout talent in another state, Martin and Clarence use their hotel room to audition local 'talent' in scenes that are painfully realistic because, well, they are real. Most of the performances we witness were captured Dateline Hidden Camera style, with the artists being briefed about the film only after their audition. Some of these are played for uncomfortable laughs, but occasionally a true artist emerges. Not that it matters. To Great World Of Sound, EVERYONE is a potential celebrity, and they'll sign anyone who can give them enough money. Ideally they want 10% of the costs of printing a CD, which comes out to $3,000, but they'll take a 'good faith' down payment to get the ball rolling. Again, it's hard to see how the main characters don't realize this is a scam.

Eventually things begin to slide from comedy to tragedy, somewhere around the time Martin and Clarence audition a young girl who has written a 'new national anthem'. For the first time Martin sees talent that moves him, and when her grandfather can't come up with the 'good faith payment' Martin helps with money out of his own pocket. This may not be when Martin and Clarence get wise to the scam, but it is when things begin to turn tragic, and the young girl is what begins to clue Martin in to the shady nature of his job. A visit to the recording studio to watch her record her song finds a technologically behind-the-times operation, inept/uncaring technicians, and a very angry grandfather. Suddenly the auditions are no longer funny, and they begin to become sad and tinged with slight dread that these people actually WILL sign up. These aren't talentless and deluded slackers, these are daughters and husbands and grandmothers that are being conned.

The performances are pretty stellar all around, whether in the 'caught on tape' musical performances, the weasely-but-not-slimy vibe from those running the GWS scam, and the interplay between Clarence and Martin. Pat Healy plays Martin with a deadpan sincerity, quiet, reserved and awkward, but truly desiring to help guide these people to stardom. Kene Holliday-good enough in this role that I wonder where the hell he's been since Matlock- plays Clarence almost diametrically opposed; gregarious, loud and crude, wanting nothing more than to make an easy buck and a better life. He isn't a bad man, but he does hold a bit of contempt for these people, looking to make it in life on 'talent' when most people have to make it with sweat and tears. It doesn't sound like the basis for a very good friendship, but the two connect, and the friendship feels real.

As I said, it's a bit of a curiousity that no one notices this is a scam. It's odd that in this day of the information highway, no one even thinks of checking into the history of GWS, but it's a minor flaw. Specifically because these people are so blinded by their own dreams that they would grasp at any way out of their ordinary lives. If I have one complaint with this movie, it's that it offers no real conclusion. Oh, sure, Clarence and Martin see the error of their ways, but it's too late; GWS has pulled stakes and moved on to greener pastures and more gullible marks. But what next? Does anyone seek out and hold GWS liable? Do any of the swindled artists seek out Clarence or Martin? The finale of this movie never lets it's characters off the hook for their duplicity in swindling people out of their savings, but neither does it offer the catharsis of confrontation. These are sad things happening to sad, desperate people, and in the end we're not given any sense of what to expect as they go their separate ways. I suppose this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and on a future viewing I'll probably change my mind about that, but I did eject the disc wanting... more. Which is the goal of any entertainer, after all.

1 comment:

Eva said...

Makes me wonder about a whole lot of things that happen to us every day!