Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review of Rich Mullins "Ragamuffin" film

I attended the Nashville screening of the new Rich Mullins "Ragamuffin" film last night before a full house at Collins Auditorium at David Lipscomb Univ. 

As a friend of Rich's from '84 to '97, I was hesitant about how I would react to a film about such a complex person who wrestled mightily with fanfare and acclaim. My fears were generally allayed, and for a small budget film by a first-time producer/director, it is pretty good. Most of this is due to the performance in the lead role by Michael Koch, who compellingly captures the creative side of Rich (he is an accomplished pianist/guitarist, and nails Rich's vocal delivery and onstage patter), as well as the brooding, intense side of Mullins' personality.

Some of the drawbacks include: editing weaknesses (it is unnecessarily long at 2 hours and 20 minutes, and somewhat repetitive in several themes); an overly simplistic (and oft brutal) critique of the music biz that deserves more nuance; primitive sets (the recording and radio studios are laughable), and some key characters in Rich's life that were completely ignored. It would've also been nice to see a bit more of Rich's unbridled kindness and silly/impish/downright hilarious sides. But these flaws are not so glaring that it renders the film unwatchable.

To the contrary, the essence of Rich's struggles with an unloving father, alcohol, disappointments in relationships, and loneliness drive the narrative and keep you wondering if/how he would ever find some degree of peace and acceptance. It doesn't give a lot of neat, tidy Christian platitudes or easy resolve. How could it if it were to be honest about the living paradox that was Rich Mullins? So, I give it an A- for effort, a C- for technique, and an overall grade of B- for residual impact it will leave with the viewer. For anyone who was a fan of Rich, or wishes to see faith being wrestled-out with earnest grit, then I recommend "Ragamuffin."

My longtime friend, Bernie Sheahan, wrote this review which gives some further coloring which I agree with...

"I saw "Ragamuffin" last week here in California and was pretty nervous about how I'd react. (Forgot my Kleenex, so I stole a whole roll of toilet paper from the church bathroom!) I knew Rich very well and for a long time. (I'm one of many, and aren't we lucky? Blessed.) He was one of six people at my 25th birthday dinner, in 1982. So when I saw the trailer online, I had a bit of a freak-out. Too weird. I knew David Mullins was part of this, but could they capture him, and how dare they make a movie when he would have hated the thought of it?

"At the end of the film, they had a Q&A session with the director, David Leo Schultz. I hopped right up--"pick me, pick me!" No questions. Just this: "Thank you...Rich was a dear friend of mine...I was afraid I'd yell out or throw things at the screen, but you got him. Thank you for showing the shadows." I said a lot more (you know me; I'm Irish) but in talking to Schultz later on I realized that Rich would have loved him. You will, too.

"As Kathy Sprinkle told me, it's not a biopic. This isn't a chronological, get-everything, History Of Rich Mullins. Don't be upset about not seeing "Rich" in shoes or sweaters, as in his real life, in winter or on hot pavement. Movies are about images. The white t-shirt and bare feet are symbolic, really. I'm sorry if I just just pulled a 'Film as Lit' teacher thing on you.

"The images are lovely. David Schultz did a marvelous job with a tiny budget. He goes from Indiana to Cincinnati to Nashville to Wichita to "the res" along the open roads with color and light that match Rich's musical palette and poetic vision. You'll have to ask him if those are actual locations. I can vouch for a few of them as the real thing. There's one that's surely not, and it doesn't matter, because any countryside four-lane highway will do. That scene is handled with grace and mercy: it's brief, tells little, and moves quickly from dark mystery to sunny memory and life most real.

"You Nashville folk will laugh your head off in some places. There was only so much they could do with a small budget, I guess. No matter. See it with an open heart. Put aside your feelings about the music business, either way (this is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to the "industry" point of view).

"What it does is present the essence of Rich. How he was, as in the title of his brother's book, "an arrow pointing to heaven". Rich didn't want you to "get" him. He wanted you to get God--to be gotten by Him. The director found, in the four years working on the film, that Rich Mullins has some intensely loyal fans. Yup. Some who seemed to almost worship Rich more than God. Rich, shall we say, discouraged that. "Be God's" -- that's how he signed every autograph. Be God's. So it's not that important, really, what I think about how Rich was portrayed in any film. I am a loyal friend, yes. But he never said, "Be Rich's." Even so, I, and all of us who knew him, are a little protective of his essence. As dumb as that may sound.

"The fellow who plays Rich was not an actor but a musician, and he surprised me with his skill and passion. He sounds like him, enough for me to lose myself in the story for much of its length (it's long!) He does the shadows well. And this film doesn't shirk from the dark, thank goodness. He's exuberant, he spins, he gets angry. He's not funny and playful like Rich--it's not in his repertoire, not in his personality. That's OK. He pulls it off well enough that it made me miss Rich. A lot. That's something, considering it's an actor who's singing and playing, talking, saying things like "You like it? You really like it?"

"I like it. I really like it."        -Bernie Sheahan

Listing of all the showings and where to get tix here (once you get to the page, click on the "Events " tab):

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Beatles: Grammy Tribute of The Night that Changed America

Thoroughly enjoyed the Beatles Tribute "The Night That Changed America" on CBS last evening.  What a terrific final celebration of all that was launched on that Ed Sullivan debut half a century ago. Like so many families across the nation, ours was curiously observing that premier around our 19-inch Sylvania black and white TV set in 1964. We didn't realize it that night, but It truly ushered in a new era.

Favorite performances from last night:

"Don't Let Me Down" by John Mayer and Keith Urban.  Tasty dual guitar work.

"Yesterday" by Katy Perry. Normally have little complimentary to say about her talent, but this was surprisingly poignant and heartfelt. Thought her "Mama Cass Elliot" attire was refreshingly odd, too.

"Let It Be" by Alicia Keys and John Legend. Two of the purest voices in pop with a reverential yet hopeful delivery.

"We Can Work It Out" by Stevie Wonder.  That playful, funky harmonica break was just perfect for this optimistic ditty.

"As My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Joe Walsh, Guy Clark Jr., and Dave Grohl. Screamin' guitar combo at the end was hair-raisingly good.  And D.G. pounded the skins as if his life depended on it.

"Yellow Submarine" by Ringo.  Such a celebration of whimsical peace-making. Having a giggle in the face of tumult.

"Birthday" and "I Saw Her Standing There" by McCartney. Pure, unfiltered power-pop joy.

Special admiration also noted for all the back-up band members, especially Kenny Aranoff on drums, and Peter Frampton and Steve Lukather on guitars.  Perfecto.

Of all the crowd reaction shots, the two I'll remember are: 1) Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, bopping around with happy abandon; and 2) The innocent, genuine excitement of Dave Grohl's 8-year-old daughter that so fully recaptured the essence of that night 50 years ago.

If you saw the broadcast, what were your faves/thoughts?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Technology's great, but pace of change seems too fast

Saritha Prabhu is one of my favorite columnists.  She sums up much of what I felt after seeing the thought provoking film, “Her,” this week…

I’m all for technology and the digital age, but is too much happening too fast?
Sometimes, it does seem that technology is moving at warp speed. Each time I turn around, I read about Google cars, Google Glass, “smart” contact lenses, “smart” houses, “intelligent” robots and more.
As much as technology enhances my life, I admit I have mixed reactions to all this: I’m a little threatened by the pace of change more than anything.
I guess I also worry that in about five years this paper will hire a robot to write my column.
But seriously, part of the problem is that every new advance is heralded as “prog­ress,” something to be automatically embraced and adapted to.
And adapt we will, but maybe we should also ask some questions.
During Christmas break, I saw the movie “Her” with my older son, a college freshman. It’s set in the future, about a man who falls in love with his artificial-intelligence-imbued operating system.
Strangely, the movie didn’t seem that strange, and seemed somewhat plausible. Afterward, I said to my son, “Remember this moment and this conversation. When you’re a middle-aged man and I’m an old woman, the world will be completely unrecognizable from now, and you’ll remember your childhood as a digitally primitive time.”
What also led to today’s column were the different things I’ve been reading recently. I read that Jeff Bezos of Amazon wants to deliver stuff to our doorstep via drones, and that kids born in 2014 will be the most technologically dependent — and the heaviest — generation ever (surely there’s a correlation).
I read that 3-year-olds were asking for iPad minis and iTunes gift cards this past Christmas.
I also read something in The New York Times that gave me the creeps: a rather futuristic-sounding scenario of cyber-intimacy between interested parties on the Internet using smartphones. “We’re experiencing an unparalleled technological revolution, and we’re learning that social desire feeds technological change,” said a pioneer in the field.
A report titled “The Future of Relationships” suggests that advances in augmented intelligence mean that people will “get attached to and develop real relationships with their hardware and software.”
“If you fast-forward five to 10 years,” says one trend-forecaster, “it’s fascinating to think about what teenagers might constitute as intimate relationships, and how relationships will be radically different.”
See what I mean about the pace of change?
Meanwhile, studies are also showing how our brains are being rewired by technology: how we are better multitaskers now, but also more distracted and fidgety, less analytical and contemplative.
What should we make of it all?
I realize I probably sound like one of the quintessential grumblers of past eras, the ones who hated the telephone, television and the rest.
One thing to remember, of course, is that technology has changed our lives mostly for the better. But the key difference between the past and now is this: The advances happening now are exponential changes.
We seem to be at the beginning of a time when almost everything is being reconfigured — the way we live, work, play, love, make war, everything.
I worry that we are losing some essence of ourselves in some important ways, and that we may even have lost the ability to reflect on what we’re losing, because, well, with all the hyper-connectivity, who has time to reflect anymore?
I worry that our smartphones are making us stupid, and that while we are racing to make robots more human, we may be losing some of our humanity.
Maybe some of this makes some sense. Or maybe I’m just a cranky naysayer.
Copyright 2014, The Tennessean. Saritha Prabhu of Clarksville is a columnist for The Tennessean.