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Laramie Movie Scope:
American Pop

Songs of the century, tunes of the times: not at the top of the charts

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1981) Songs of the century, tunes of the times, in an animated kaleidoscope (with archival film clips) from director Ralph Bakshi, but not at the top of the charts. Some chronology and actual origins of the compositions are ignored for freedom of artistic expression, permitting the depiction of four generations of one family to symbolize the evolution of American popular music.

Zalmie Belinsky and his mother arrive in New York City, fleeing the pogrom in tsarist Russia. The kid begins his association with Louie, handing out chorus slips in strip joints; his mother dies in the Triangle Shirt factory fire. Vaudeville comedian - wounded while performing as a horse's ass in World War I - Zal falls for Annabella, a stripper (pregnant before they get married) who wants to be a singer.

In speakeasies and gangster violence during Prohibition, Zal, working with mobster Nicky Palumbo, rises in the underworld; but Bella opens the wrong package of pretzels. Their son Benny plays piano (Gershwin), preferring jazz with black musicians to being famous; marries (at Zal's request) Nicky's daughter with a big house; enlists in the Army for which he dies at a keyboard to an applauding Nazi soldier's gunfire. After eight years in the penitentiary, Zal finally agrees to sing about Nicky Palumbo to the authorities.

It's the '50s and the Beats when Tony, Benny's son, abandons his wife and three daughters for California, briefly stopping in Kansas to wash dishes when a waitress (a prize in a box of Crackerjacks) with blue eyes and corn-silk hair beckons to him. Afterward he'll hate the sight of Cornflakes.

On a freight train he learns from a hobo to play his father's harmonica. Playing "California Dreaming" on his mouth organ, Tony captures the ear of singer Frankie Hart and her band; he becomes their song writer (Bob Dylan and Jefferson Airplane titles), resulting in a number-one album and Tony's psychedelic descent into drugs.

Back in Kansas City, where Jimi Hendrix opens the show for them, Frankie does a Janis Joplin turn and crash, after she and Tony make Little Pete's acquaintance. Returning to New York City, Tony with Pete in tow pawns the kid's guitar for coke. Candyman for a band, Pete offers his song (Bob Seger's "Night Moves") along with the nose candy before breaking out on his own.

Wild and weird trip with all the musical mixing inside a clever and colorful cartoon, probably would have been a heavy hallucinogenic accessory.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)