Sunday, May 21, 2023

SIFF Dispatch #5: A Made-for-TV Stars Wars Disaster and a D.I.Y. Success Story in A Disturbance in the Force and Dreamin' Wild

In this dispatch, I'll be looking at A Disturbance in the Force and Dreamin' Wild. Click here for dispatch #1 (Other People's Children), here for dispatch #2 (Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes), here for dispatch #3 (The Eight Mountains and Douglas Sirk: Hope as in Despair), and here for dispatch #4 (Desperate Souls, Dark City, and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy). 

(Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak, USA, 2023, 87 minutes) 

A Disturbance in the Force, a dissection of CBS's disastrous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, begins in recent years with Conan O'Brien asking Harrison Ford about it on the air. Ford becomes amusingly anxious, then denies any memory of the thing. Decades later, it still produces major yikes in its participants, many of whom appear in the documentary dissing it at public appearances. Nowadays, however, its badness is celebrated by non-participants who thrill to the clash between Star Wars cast members and pop-cult figures, like Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman. There had been precedents, like Stars Wars episodes of The Richard Pryor Show and Donnie and Marie--with vaudevillian Storm Troopers--but the long-form special pulled out all the stops. In the context of the gaudy variety shows of the 1970s and the relentless marketing around the movie, the special was a super-sized version of the action figures, the commercials--the whole George Lucas-generated shebang. Awful, sure, but as co-directors Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak persuasively prove: it was also inevitable. 

(Bill Pohlad, USA, 2023, 110 minutes)

Bill Pohlad isn't interested in rags to riches narratives. Love + Mercy alternated between Brian Wilson at two different stages in his life, a creatively fertile time and a time of recovery. The Spokane-filmed Dreamin' Wild has a different look and feel, but does something similar. Donnie Emerson (Casey Affleck) runs a studio with his wife, Nancy (Zooey Deschanel). He's neither rich and famous nor drug-addled and destitute. Just a normal working class guy. One day in 2011, his brother, Joe (Walton Goggins), calls to say that a record company--Light in the Attic--has expressed interest in Dreamin' Wild, the album they made in 1979. Pohlad alternates between Donnie as a teenager (played by Noah Jupe) and the present. If Murry Wilson had a negative impact on his sons, Joe Emerson, Sr. (Beau Bridges, low-key heartbreaking) had the opposite effect, building a tricked-out studio and doing everything possible to help them succeed. While Joe exults in the delayed recognition, Donnie feels like a failure--nothing else he ever did took off in the same way. All told, it isn't the most dynamic story, but it's a uniquely touching one. A film to stand alongside other Pacific Northwest portraits of sibling musicians, like Ulu Grosbard's Georgia and The Fabulous Baker Boys with Beau and Jeff Bridges.

There are no further SIFF screenings of A Disturbance in the Force, however I'll update this post as more viewing opportunities arise, whether online or in-person. Dreamin' Wild screens for a final time at Shoreline Community College today at 6:30pm. It was adapted from Steven Kurutz's terrific piece "Fruitland," which is well worth a read. Upcoming: reviews of Fremont and Clyde Petersen's Even Hell Has Its Heroes. Images from Lucasfilm / CBS (Bea Arthur with a giant Rick Baker-designed rat left over from Food of the Gods) and Roadside Attractions (Casey Affleck with Beau Bridges).  

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