Tag Archives: music movies

The Beat of Your Heart

River City Drumbeat

by Cat McAlpine

Directors Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté explore both struggle and success in their documentary following the River City Drum Corps of Louisville, KY. River City Drumbeat captures how art and culture are both necessary for the survival of a community. The film itself has natural rhythm, moving from raucous drum performances to reflections on the darker side of life as a Black American. 

In an opening shot, an instructor stands in front of a gymnasium full of young children. Asking them to place their hands on their hearts, he says, “If you get really quiet and get really still and listen very quietly you can feel something beating in your chest…we are born into the world with this sound.”

The belief that we are all born with music inside us is a driving principal of RCDC, which creates an artistic outlet and cultural touchstone for children who might not otherwise be exposed to their African roots. Executive Director and Founder of River City Drum Corps Edward “Nardie” White emphasizes how important the program is to his community, especially young black men. When White was young, he was discouraged from participating in the arts and instead pushed to play basketball and football. Now, he can trace the dozens of lives he has changed with art over the last three decades.

Johnson and Flatté juxtapose vibrant shots of family and laughter with gray rolling footage of the west end of Louisville’s boarded windows and abandoned homes. White gives a tour of his old neighborhood, reminiscing about how the Black community in Louisville has grown and changed. “Our culture is going to be our savior.” He says.

Their greatest challenges? Redlining, poverty, poor education, and violence.

A huge inspiration for both White and the RCDC was White’s late wife, Zambia. Many of the Drum Corps students, current and former, reflect on the immense impact she had on them. One young man shows her photo in his bedroom, next to stickers from prospective colleges, reflecting on how good it feels good to have her watching over him. It is in small moments like these that Johnson and Flatté are able to show just how widely and deeply RCDC has impacted the community.

Zambia is finally shown in some older footage as she accepts an award. Addressing the crowd, she says, “We must give to our young people something we all wake up with…time.”

That’s the central theme of River City Drumbeat, that youth deserve the time, attention, and love their community has to offer, and that it can make a difference. As White says to the Drum Corps before a performance, “Black arts matter.”

River City Drumbeat is a hopeful and loving portrait of a community that has found power in coming together and making music. It is joyful, and sometimes sad, but always looking forward. And it may be just what you needed to watch today.

Stage Mother

Vox Lux

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

No doubt you’re hip to the talent of Natalie Portman.

But if you only know Brady Corbet as an actor (Funny Games, Melancholia, Simon Killer), or maybe don’t know him at all, get to know Corbet the visionary filmmaker.

Corbett writes and directs an astute and unusual pop ballad about celebrity—American celebrity, at that.

Vox Lux opens in 1999 as young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and her high school class are visited by a disgruntled young white male. Corbet’s camera plays with the horror of the scene as it dawns on those in the classroom as well as the audience what is about to happen.

As Celeste heals from a bullet to the spine, she and her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) work through their collective grief and trauma by writing a song, which Celeste later performs at a memorial vigil.

Thanks to the astute strategy of a no-nonsense manager (Jude Law) and straightforward publicist (Jennifer Ehle), the song becomes a healing anthem and Celeste—her protective sister at her side—is launched into pop stardom.

Corbet’s chaptered “21st Century Portrait” (the proper subtitle to his film) offers infrequent omniscient narration from Willem Dafoe, a glib narrative device that’s part “Behind the Music” and part sociological commentary. Tragedy is commodity in modern America, a fact that can only mean more tragedy.

When the timeline shifts forward and Portman takes over in the lead, we see a new character fully formed from years of living that are only hinted at. Celeste is now a veteran megastar with a daughter of her own (also played by Cassidy) and strained relationships with everyone around her.

Portman’s performance is such an all-in tour de force it effectively divides the film into parts: with and without her. She commands the screen with such totality you’re afraid of what Celeste might do if you dare to shift your focus somewhere else.

Corbet knows better than to do that. With Portman as a mesmerizing guide, he crafts a fascinating fable with two uniquely American pillars – gun violence and celebrity culture. Vox Lux is shocking, funny, sad, and haunting, with plenty of visual flourish and even some new songs by Sia.

It’s a statement, and coming from a relatively unknown writer/director, a pretty audacious one.

Keep ’em coming, Corbet.