Movie: Independent movies have the ability to address a topic with a freedom that mainstream, big-budget releases simply aren't allowed. They are usually made by a small group of people, if not a single driving force (typically the director/writer) instead of by committee so they tend to remain true to the original vision rather than a Frankenstein's Monster of monetary compromises. That by no means suggests that all independent films are great and visionary while all mainstream movies are trash that play to the lowest common denominator but, in the aggregate at least, it sometimes seems that way. A recently released indie movie, Easy Listening, is an example of one woman's vision about a place and time that existed before she was born.
The time was 1967 in an urban area in the northeast part of the USA. The lead character is Burt Frances (David Ian), a fat, middle-aged white man who plays in a rundown orchestra owned by the father of his ex-wife. The orchestra plays music that would be too slow for elevators and he aspires to play jazz but knows his talents are not up to the challenge. His life is a shallow one and inside his tightly knit cocoon of self-pity, he grows old before his time. Enter Linda (Traci Crouch), a young, hip gal with a carefree attitude towards life and an upbeat attitude towards everything that comes her way.
The two get acquainted when she joins the orchestra and seeks his help to prepare for an audition by the 101 Strings (apparently a good orchestra that are commercially successful). As the two get to know one another, they find that opposites attract with her recognizing his talent for doing exactly what he does (plays easy listening music well, oh boy!), and him recognizing her ability to see the best in everything and anyone see meets. With his shrewish ex-wife yapping at their heels and the implausibility of their future together, the couple find that life in the fast lane isn't all it's cracked up to be. Here's what the director wrote on the inside of the DVD cover:
"I set Easy Listening in 1967, a time before I was born and in which I imagine a sense of excitement and change not yet embittered by the self-awareness of hippies and war. Into this pre-pubescent moment I put Burt, a miserable middle-aged adolescent, who becomes a hero when he gives up being cool for being happy. He matures when he sheds his bitterness, rather than when he's taking it up. And so, this became an innocent movie about cynicism and a cynical look at innocence, a fixation that comes, I suppose, from becoming a grown-up myself.
There is a feeling of overt sincerity that my generation recoils from, but I secretly crave to submit to. Innocent pleasure and pure sweetness seem to cause writhing discomfort and a strong urge to mock. It reminds me of children, once huge Mister Rogers fans at age four, proudly denouncing him at age 5. On a generational scale, life itself becomes corny. I wanted to make a story that allowed people feel the way they did when they were little, listening to their favorite record."
Okay, there were a number of comedic moments, but the dramatic elements were far more numerous in the film. It combines parts of many movies made back in the 1960's and 1970's, from Shampoo to Being There to Breakfast At Tiffanies and more, the movie seemed to me to be a collection of many shows that director/writer Pamela Corkey watched in her childhood and wanted to put into a big melting pot. That's not to say she had no creative input into the movie, there were touches all over the place but I think her next movie will be far more who she is and what she has to say than this one.
I'm going to rate this one as a Rent It because I liked certain aspects (I grew up in the area it was filmed; Boston, Brookline, Newton, etc. and thought the actors were very accurate in their portray of 1960's characters) while not really "getting" the movie as a whole. The music was interesting and while I thought there was a lot of talent and energy going into it, I have to acknowledge that the whole thing was in need of either a much larger budget or a much shorter length.
Picture: The picture was presented in non-anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture, like most low budget indie releases shot on 16mm, had a bunch of grain and video noise. It also had some compression artifacts and faulty lighting but you accept this going into the show by virtue of the budget and releasing company (I like Vanguard for all the obscure movies it releases and applaud them for taking in titles no one else will touch).
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 surround English but most (if not all) of the sound came through my center channel and I believe the original vocal track was created in monaural. It had some flaws of its own, including varying levels and some flaws that might've been caught in the studio but it contributed to the authenticity of the feel of the show.
Extras: The best extra was the director audio commentary. Ms. Corkey was joined by co-producer Paul Tritter and the two discussed a number of technical considerations of the film, including how many problems they had and their backgrounds. I would've liked it better if they spent more time discussing the content of the film but it added some value to the DVD. I thought it was funny when Mr. Tritter offered a special sweepstakes prize for those who sent a SASE (but you had to be listening to the commentary at about 82 minutes into the show). There were no deleted scenes or EPX as indicated on the back of the DVD cover though so the commentary would win by default (as the only listed extra).
Final Thoughts: I enjoyed this movie as an homage to all those movies I watched while growing up as well as a travelogue to the area I grew up in nearly as much as the actual movie itself. Still, the technical limitations and fuzzy logic employed by the movie make me hesitant to rating it higher than as a rental. Once you see it, you may fall in love with it but play it safe.