Music and more music: two films by Robert Mugge

Critics' Picks

May 03, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

SATURDAY, MAY 5

At the top of my list for Saturday are "Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" and "Rhythm N Bayous." The director of both these films, Robert Mugge, is a documentary moviemaker who can reveal the core of his musical subjects in one long, unbroken number after another.

His stripped-down approach and rough-hewn presentation compel viewers to confront musicians directly. All the performances in his movies, and all the interviews, have an unfiltered feel to them.

"Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" is rarely screened, but Sun Ra, the late Philly-based jazz composer and leader of his "Arkestra," must have been a great subject for Mugge. This guy was so far-out he always talked about man's place in the cosmos, yet was also so down-to-earth he listed himself in the phone book as "Ra, Sun." ("Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" has some footage filmed at Baltimore's Famous Ballroom, a space now part of the Charles Theatre.)

"Rhythm N Bayous" sounds like a worthy successor to Mugge's 1991 "Deep Blues." This latest Mug-Shot Production starts out following a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus as it travels through southwestern Louisiana. Then Mugge roams all across the state to take in everything from B to Z -- from blues to zydeco.

To judge from the advance reviews, we're in for a "Deep Blues" experience."

The next priority for me would be a sort of presidential trio. Since Sen. John Kerry is looking more and more like a national candidate -- and, heck, since I did volunteer work for his first senatorial campaign -- I hope to check out "An Unfinished Symphony," which includes his testimony before Congress on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Because a recent "West Wing" episode piqued my interest about hybrid corn saving famine-plagued Third World countries, I might also sneak a peek at "Hybrid," which centers on a 100-year-old Iowa farmer's devotion to hybrid seed corn.

Perhaps the most intriguing of these three, though, is "Rediscovering George Washington," based on Richard Brookhiser's 1996 book, "Founding Father." At the end of his introduction, Brookhiser noted that 18th-century Americans "knew something about the power of example that we have forgotten. When he lived, Washington had the ability to give strength to debaters and to dying men. His life still has the power to inspire anyone who studies it."

Just to mix things up, I might duck in to part of "The Panel of Blood," a panel discussion featuring director Herschell Gordon Lewis. I hope someone tells him that according to Time magazine (Dec. 31, 1999), the kings of Hollywood biopics, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski ("Ed Wood," "The People vs. Larry Flynt," "Man on the Moon"), credit their partnership to "discovering a mutual love for trashy horror flicks like Herschell Gordon Lewis' "Blood Feast" and "2000 Maniacs."

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