Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ebertfest 2010: Closing day

The last day of Ebertfest tends to be a little more low key. Since the festival attracts a significant number of out-of-town attendees, some choose to head home rather than fit in one more movie. Late nights are a given, so weariness may be setting in even for those not staying up most of the night writing like yours truly. Perhaps this is why the festival's closing day has traditionally featured a musical or music-related film. There's less heavy lifting for a taxed system when music is the focus.

While there is a decent amount of music in the documentary SONG SUNG BLUE, the focus falls on the relationship of Mike and Claire Sardina, otherwise known as the Milwaukee lounge act Lightning & Thunder. Lightning sings Neil Diamond songs and plays up his resemblance to him, but he doesn't appear to be an impersonator. His wife, Thunder, specializes in Patsy Cline songs. The film claims that the duo was very popular--local TV news reports indicate they were well-known in town at least--and the couple has high hopes that bigger opportunities may await in Las Vegas.

Those dreams are scuttled when a car runs off the road and hits Thunder while she's in her front yard. She loses part of a leg. Financial struggles and other health problems hit the Sardinas hard, but they soldier on and keep performing as the act is their primary source of income.

While SONG SUNG BLUE went over extremely well with the Ebertfest audience, I confess that I wasn't similarly enthusiastic. Maybe it's because I didn't have any foreknowledge of these singers and thus wasn't already predisposed to be enchanted by them.

Part of the problem is that director Greg Kohs lets others tell us how great Lightning & Thunder are, but I never felt like I saw the magic that is supposedly in their act. From how he's crafted the film and what he expressed on stage, it is clear that Kohs feels passionately about this family. He's not holding them up for ridicule whatsoever. Could his closeness to them have been a hindrance in making the doc? In the post-film Q&A he mentioned one shoot in which he was actively involved as a roadie, yet what he thought was a thrilling experience didn't translate on the tape he showed his wife. To me that describes the film as a whole.

On a side note, I'm curious how many of Lightning & Thunder's fans had ironic appreciation for them or enjoyed the kitsch value. That seems like a big unspoken factor, but it's never clear why (or how) popular they were.

Like ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, SONG SUNG BLUE has the underdogs climbing uphill to achieve their goals and often coming up short. The difference between the films is instructive. The members of Anvil may seem like they have their heads in the clouds, but there's also reason to believe that they could be one break away from realizing some of their aspirations. With Lightning & Thunder it's much harder to envision what they do leading to something greater.

After the film Thunder took to the Virginia Theatre's stage for three songs and roused many people to get up and dance to Patsy Cline and ABBA. While I hate to sound like a grouch/jerk/killjoy/you-name-it, this mini-concert confirmed the doubts I had from the film. I don't begrudge her from continuing to put on shows; I just don't see and hear what's so special.


I'll wrap my coverage of the 12th Ebertfest (and my 10th) with an entry that includes stray observations and thoughts that haven't made it into my other daily reports. But for now, it's time to leave Champaign-Urbana.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark. I enjoyed reading back through your daily posts on EbertFest. And your photos. Nicely done.

    I wish that I had met you there.

    My blog post is at: