Monday, November 3, 2008

The Commitments-Another musical done right

"The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. The Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once and say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud."

Alan Parker's The Commitments is a movie that has a lot of insight into the way that many bands work. They might be fighting like the pettiest of siblings backstage, and creating beautiful, moving music when they get onstage in front of the crowd. The problem with the band The Commitments is that they can't always keep those two behaviors separate. Sax players trying to fit a jazz solo into soul music whether it fits or not, egotistical singers that piss people off but sound too damn good to kick out of the band, your trumpet player nailing all of your female singers, crazy roadies, and angry pawn shop dealers, but above all else... the music. This movie has some really good music. Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and more are worshipped by The Commitments, and this movie helped introduce a lot of those people into a new generation in the early 90's. I may relate to the band interactions and the music more than some people will, but it's done so well that I think people understand it even if they don't have first hand experience with it

Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) wants to put together a band in Dublin, and although he doesn't play an instrument, he fancies himself to be a manager. He recruits old friends on guitar and bass at a wedding where their terrible band is playing. While there, Jimmy also sees a drunk man named Deco (a 16-year-old Andrew Strong) get up and sing while the band is on break, he likes the guys voice and approaches him a few days later about singing in the band. After enduring disastrious auditions, Jimmy gets with a friend who sang in school and asks her to bring a couple of friends to be the female singers of the band, he finds a saxophonist, a drummer, pianist, and is found himself by trumpet player Joey "The Lips" Fagan, a veteran of seemingly every meaningful soul horn section ever. Jimmy decides on the name "The Commitments" because "All of the great groups of the 60's were The somethings". Soon they're on the road and squabbling constantly, onstage and off, while Joey proves that his nickname may not have been given to him because of his trumpeting, as he claims it was. Jimmy's sax player starts rebelling, his drummer quits, there are onstage electrocutions and subsequent trips to the hospital, and so on. Jimmy has idealized managing a band, even hilariously conducting self-interviews about his future successes with the band, but finds out pretty quickly that it might not exactly play out like it does in his head. But he thinks they can get Wilson "Mustang Sally" Pickett to join them onstage when he's in town, since Joey jammed with Pickett back in the day, and if he could just pull that off, Jimmy's band might make the big time.

The Commitments isn't really trying to make any big statements about music, or life, or anything really. It's just telling the inherently episodic story of life in a working band. Like always, some of these episodes work and others don't. There's a great sequence near the beginning of the movie where Jimmy holds massive auditions for the band. Nobody can correctly answer the question of who their influences are (Jimmy is naturally looking for an answer like "Sam Cooke and Ray Charles" or something of the sort), and some don't even end up being musicians. If there are maybe one too many scenes of the band fighting amongst themselves, I can forgive Parker's inclusion of them, since that's still a pretty accurate representation of a lot of bands.

The band sounds really good. Strong has a, well...strong voice, even if it's a bit untrained at his (then) young age. I had no clue while watching the movie that he was only 16, he looks like he's at least 30. It's weird to see Glen Hansard as the guitar player. After seeing him in the movie Once, or with his bands The Frames and The Swell Season, it's strange to see him 15+ years ago all baby faced and everything. None of the other bands members are known to me from anything else, although one of the female singers would later play a bit part in Pulp Fiction, as Rosanna Arquette's druggie friend. But I think that might be for the best. The Commitments is all about kind of making it, then self destructing, but looking back on the experience with fond memories. I think we can all relate to that at least a little bit.

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