15 MAY 2018: Forbes Magazine said of Brand USA’s film America’s Musical Journey, “When was the last time a movie made you want to dance in your seat? Or inspired you to travel? America's Musical Journey, a foot-stomping, high-flying, body-bending, hands-clapping, back-flipping, soul-lifting new film, celebrates the USA's trailblazing spirit, dynamic diversity and enormous musical contributions -” Well, no question that America has a fabulous musical heritage, but, and it wasn’t just me, at last week’s screening the response to the film was pretty lackluster.

However, we should note that this is a film that was produced for an iMax screen and we viewed it on an infinitely smaller screen in a hotel conference centre. Undoubtedly it will play better on iMax.

So, let’s be fair. It’s a pretty good travelogue. My friends in Chicago, Miami and especially New Orleans must be thrilled. Memphis/Nashville and Austin got good coverage, as did New York, but here’s the thing – this was ostensibly about music, the places and cultures that breed it and the musicians who create it – presumably it makes you want to go to these places to listen to it.

The film, narrated by Morgan Freeman and starring Aloe Blacc is entertaining enough, and while it focuses heavily on Louis Armstrong, and to a lesser extent Elvis Presley and mentions a number of other musical artists, the soundtrack is relatively flat.

The music should have celebrated the artists – certainly the soundtrack could/should have incorporated the actual sounds of America’s musical creative genius. Where were the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Getz, Monk, Baker, Miles Davis, Sinatra? Where were Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes – Dylan and Baez – Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen? All those incredible rock groups of the seventies and eighties? Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift – and can one mention Swift without Kanye West? Beyonce, Jay Z, Puff Daddy/J Diddy/Sean Combs. Where were Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and Rene Fleming? Leonard Bernstein? You can add hundreds – thousands – more. This is just a tiny sampling of the richness and diversity of America’s soundtrack.

Obviously one 45 minute film can’t include everything - and certainly some of these greats were mentioned, but the film would have been richer if we heard more of their actual music.

This is not to say that the film is not interesting or entertaining. The music of New Orleans is always a show stopper, the flashmob in Chicago was fun, as are many other parts of the film - though why include the parachuting Elvii? Done before (1992). Done better. Now just dull.

Curiously, given the theme, it’s the music that disappoints.

Think back to when Brand USA launched ‘Land of Dreams’ written and sung by Rosanne Cash, it was a great soundtrack and one that had the audience tapping and humming and even getting all goosebumpy.

Two songs frame America’s Musical Journey, Aloe Blacc’s ‘My Story’ which I liked, but hasn’t got quite enough punch to carry the film and ‘It’s a Wonderful World,’ which while it may be wonderful, is too familiar and just a little too tired to deliver the goods.

The accompanying book, does illustrate America’s musical story with a lot of impact. It’s excellent.

The film will be playing at the iMax theatre at Toronto’s Science Centre for the next year.

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