MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
David Byrne’s American Utopia - Streaming on HBO and HBO Max
Music video directed by Spike Lee
As our country heads into Thanksgiving and Christmas season and most of us are experiencing Covid-19 fatigue, I thought that now might be the time to recommend two positive, feel-good musicals. There is never a consensus about music, so pay attention to the details before viewing.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is quite remarkable, a feel-good family-friendly Broadway musical. It tells a rather contrived tale about rival inventors and a little girl who brings them together just in time for Christmas. There is hardly anything original in this tuneful outing, but the songs are really good and the choreography and sets are fantastic. The film borrows from Charles Dickens, steampunk, with nods to Babes in Toyland, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Peter Pan, Wall-E / Short Circuit, Toy Story, gospel, doo-wop, and The Greatest Showman with a sprinkling of The Wiz. Forrest Whittaker sings, Keenan-Michael Key dances, and Clare Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) narrates. It is corny and contrived, but it WORKS REALLY HARD! Like so many Christmas films, there is no mention of Jesus or even benevolence. It’s a holiday celebration of STEM. And I loved it!
David Byrne’s American Utopia is a live concert film of his popular Broadway show, directed by Spike Lee. If you are familiar with Byrne’s music (either his solo albums or his Talking Heads songs), you are sure to enjoy this movie, but I would encourage others to give it a try, simply because the program does such a great job celebrating community and possibilities for a better life. All ten musicians who join him onstage are playing live music from keyboards with a lot of percussion. In addition to playing their instruments, everyone sings in beautiful harmony and dance together, in 90 minutes of celebration. The songs cover a wide range of quirky subjects, including the parts of the human brain (“Here”), cities (“Glass, Concrete & Stone”) and the diversity of feet (“Toe Jam”). Many popular Talking Heads songs performed include “Once in a Lifetime”, “Burning Down the House”, and “Slippery People”. The show really moves along at a brisk pace.
In a very moving tribute to Black Lives Matter, Byrne performs Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” (a contraction of the phrase “what the hell are you talking about?”). This modern protest song honors the many Black lives who were lost through police brutality or racism.
The show is undeniably upbeat and hopeful about the human capacity for wonder and joy. You will have things to think about, for sure, but you will also feel the kind of community that we also experience in worship.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A real celebration of life, music and unity.
One pitchfork: For discussions that touch upon the hard topics of immigration and systemic racism; nevertheless positive change can happen.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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