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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

GREAT WORLD OF SOUND -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review was originally posted at in 2007.)

At first, I thought this was going to be some boring documentary about music.  Or worse, a boring docudrama about the music industry.  So, when GREAT WORLD OF SOUND (2007) turned out to be a semi-mockumentary-style comedy-drama about con men who bilk starry-eyed amateur musicians out of their money, I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back to enjoy it for what it was.

Martin (Pat Healy, MAGNOLIA, PEARL HARBOR) is a nebbishy out-of-work introvert who lives with his artsy-craftsy girlfriend Pam (Rebecca Mader).  He attends a seminar in which applicants are to be trained as "record producers" who seek out and sign new talent for an outfit called Great World of Sound.  After partnering up with the brash, outgoing Clarence (Kene Holliday), the pair hit the road and start auditioning aspiring musical artists in motel rooms, with the promise of getting their music recorded at the GWS studio in Memphis.

The catch is that the artist must put up 30% of the $10,000 recording costs up front, preferably in cash.  And the smarmy, seedy guys who run GWS, Shank (John Baker) and Layton (Robert Longstreet), instruct their employees to sign everyone they can regardless of talent, or distinct lack thereof.  It gradually dawns on Martin that he's part of a "song sharking" scam, sparking an inner conflict that pits his need for gainful employment against his conscience. 

Pat Healy gives a subtle, internalized performance as Martin, while Kene Holliday's smooth-talking Clarence is all boundless energy and bluster.  He wholeheartedly embraces this money-making opportunity regardless of the damage it may do to others, not because he's heartless, but because it's his only available means of bettering himself after a lifetime of hardship.  I've never seen Holliday in a role this good--in fact, I think the only things I've ever seen him in were "Carter Country" and "Matlock"--and he makes the most of it.  Baker and Longstreet are wonderfully sleazy as their GWS bosses, embodying the essence of smoothly deceptive, informercial-style hucksterism. 

The main joy of watching GREAT WORLD OF SOUND, though, is the parade of mainly-horrible musical acts, most of whom seem so authentic that you'd swear they were real people off the street.  Which, in fact, most of them are, having answered an ad placed by director/co-writer Craig Zobel (inventor of "Strongbad"), who recorded them with hidden cameras and used the ones who later consented to appear in the film.  (My favorite is a girl group called "Cockpit" who dress in sexy stewardess outfits, but that's just me.)  It's a motley succession of musical misfits--you never know what you're going to see next.  And when Healy and Holliday, in character, sweet-talk these actual people into agreeing to cough up hundreds or thousands of dollars for some nebulous promise of stardom, you can see just how effective these scams are in real life.

Martin and Clarence, of course, pretend that they're all so great that only a few thousand bucks of their own money lies between them and superstardom.  But when a genuinely talented young black girl named Kendra sings a self-penned song called "The New National Anthem" that touches Martin's heart, he invests a chunk of his own money toward getting her into the recording studio.  This turns out to be a disaster when Martin and Clarence pay a visit to the GWS studio in Memphis and discover what a low-rent, dead-end operation the whole thing really is.

The capper comes when they audition a woman named Gloria (Tricia Paoluccio) who knocks their socks off with her beautiful voice and poignant lyrics.  Clarence wants to go in for the kill but Martin just can't handle the guilt anymore, sending her away.  This sparks a volatile blow-up between the partners, and Martin, stuck in a faroff city with an empty wallet and no ticket home, decides to seek Gloria out and try to cheat her out of her dough after all.  Will he go through with it?  And will he jeopardize his relationship with Pam by succumbing to Gloria's romantic advances?  You'll just have to watch the movie and find out.

GREAT WORLD OF SOUND is a non-jokey comedy that lets us appreciate the humor in its situations by presenting them with a subtle and low-key realism that rarely rings false.  The drama comes naturally from these same situations with nary a change in tone and, ultimately, is surprisingly downbeat.  While this movie didn't blow me away or anything, I got much more than I expected out if it and didn't feel as though I'd been scammed by sleazy Hollywood hucksters into investing my time in something that wasn't worth watching.

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