Great World of Sound – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com
Why do my film school classmates produce such depressing, impoverished movies? A viewer of David Gordon Green’s George Washington, Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories and Craig Zobel’s Great World of Sound would believe that North Carolina School of the Arts was a bleak house of learning. There was laughter during those college days instead of around the clock screenings of Harvest of Shame and gnashing our teeth in unison. I haven’t seen Craig Zobel in over eight years so this is not a review of a friend’s film. Consider this a class critique like the ones we were required to deliver for our classmates Year Two Projects.

While Great World of Sound is about music, it’s far from a carefree musical. You might want to devour Prozac instead of popcorn while watching the singing. Ever see ads in newspapers alerting you to a record label auditioning fresh talent for amazing opportunities? Great World of Sound explores a company that promises to make you the next Clay Aiken. We don’t follow the future musical superstars. This story focuses on the men assigned to find the talent. Martin (Pat Healy) has bounced around various radio station gigs. He arrives at the Great World of Sound in hopes of landing a producer job. The interview isn’t too grueling. He’s hired and trained for his brilliant new career. The record company’s main criterion for signing talent is if the talent can sign a check for $3,000 to pay for studio costs and CD pressing. Allegedly Great World of Sound promotes the CDs to major record labels and radio stations for the performers. The goal of the producer is not to create hits, but collect checks. Martin is paired up with Clarence (Kene Holliday) to discover fresh, untapped talent that have untapped bank accounts.

The Great World of Sound is like Albert and David Maysles’ Salesmen documentary. Instead of saving your soul with the expensive Bible, the GWS guys want to elevate your dreams by making you a recording star. Clarence knows how to charm a performer into paying the fee. He lets them know that even though it sounds expensive, this will be the special spark that blazes their career. What’s a few thousand dollars when you’ll be raking in millions at the top? Clarence knows none of these acts have any hope of being radio stars. He needs the paycheck so he’ll play the game. The oblivious Martin thinks they’re a legit company. He cuts a check of his own to give a little girl a shot at stardom. How can he be so foolish to not understand what’s going down? That’s not a spoiler since the first images in the film is someone forging a gold record since it only take a spraycan and a frame to look like you sold half a million.

This film illustrates the difference between an indie documentary and drama. If Great World of Sound was a documentary, we’d be following Clarence. He’s charismatic and dynamic. He has panache. He reminiscent of the used car salesman in John Landis’ Slasher. But an indie drama forces the bland Martin into the lead. He’s so milquetoast that he should be coated in butter instead of makeup. Why does Zobel want us to believe that this guy can be a stud with two artsy women? He’s a cypher. He has no game, cash or drugs: the required tools of the trade for record producers. They don’t have a girlfriend like Rebecca Mader (currently seen on Lost). Guys like Martin don’t get laid on the road without putting the $20 on the dresser in advance.

If there’s a reason why this film floundered theatrically, it’s from telling us the wrong story. This was Clarence’s movie. Perhaps fans of Matlock would have shown up to see Kene Holliday in the lead.

The film has a Candid Camera element since a majority of the folks auditioning for the music executives really did answer an ad in the newspaper. Their auditions are filmed through the two-way mirrors that office and hotel room walls. Kene plays hard to get them to buy into his reality. He’s a master on the screen as they fight his urging to break out the checkbook. Zobel screwed up by not using the end credits to insert scenes of the unwitting performers discovering they’re being filmed. I want to know if anyone looked at Kene and said, “Aren’t you that guy from Matlock?” Did Zobel not want to break the bleak tone of the film? Why hold back? Did he think people really sit through the credits to read all the names like we were forced to do at film school?

What makes a movie a “student film” is the knowledge that your audience is required to sit through the running time or receive demerits. You’re not out to entertain the audience so much as get a great grade from the professors. Too much of the nearly two hours of GWS comes off as a student film. When Clarence isn’t on the screen, film loses energy. You don’t root for Martin do anything except find Clarence. As a character, Martin just doesn’t have the juice. When the movie is over, Martin is only remembered for being frustrating and forgettable. It’s a shame Zobel didn’t recognize early on who was the real star of his production. Kene Holliday is the only reason to endure the gloom that is Great World of Sound.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. They shot on 16mm and HD video and cut it all on HD video. This allows the scenes shot through the two-way mirror to blend with the staged scenes.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Even with all the trickery of the Candid Camera performances, the levels are very good. The commentary track has Zobel, Richard Wright (producer), Melissa Palmer (producer), Adam Stone (cinematographer) and Elizabeth Steinfels (art director). It’s kinda weird listening to familiar voices talking about the movie. They discuss the guest musicians. The subtitles are in Spanish. It is closed captioned in English.

Additional Scenes (30:53) include thirteen excised moments. A majority of them are bands auditioning for the producers. Zobel rescues his father’s cameo from the cutting room floor.

Deleted scenes (13:22) are five scenes that were snipped from the film. None of them are essential.

Fans of Matlock will be thrilled at Kene Holliday’s amazing performance as the hustler caught in a con industry. Great World of Sound could have been a great film if it hadn’t stuck us with a bland hero.

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Magnolia Home Entertainment presents Great World of Sound. Directed by Craig Zobel. Screenplay by Craig Zobel & George Smith. Starring Kene Holliday, Pat Healy, John Baker & Rebbeca Mader. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: February 5, 2008. Available at Amazon.com

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