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80 years of Amram's life in 92 minutes - never enough time
David Amram is a true "renaissance man". Over the last 40 years I've seen him perform at folk festivals, in concert halls (conducting his own compositions – both classical and jazz), heard him read from the book he wrote about his years traveling with Jack Keroauc, and listened to the soundtrack scores he composed for "The Manchurian Candidate" (the original; not the recent remake) and "Splendor in the Grass".
It's odd that this is the first film about this musical genius. The film is only 92 minutes long but captures all the above-mentioned accomplishments and more using rare archival footage unearthed by Producer/Director Larry Kraman. The amount of 1950s television footage he found is great. The film revolves around two celebratory events that were held in New York City to celebrate Amram's 90th birthday. One was a large concert held uptown at Symphony Space; the other "downtown" in the "Village", where Amram lived for years, at the Cornelia Street Café. The latter even was more intimate. A special guest that night was jazz singer Kurt Elling.
Much of the narration comes from Amram himself in recent interviews. We learn about his family – He had his first child in his early 50s and the breakup of his marriage. We here him sing, play duets with a Native American musician and more.
Some of the recent camera work that Kraman captured with his hand-held camera is a bit jumpy in spots but he was capturing a moment that couldn't be repeated and this fits with the kind of loose improvised music that Amram often creates for fun.
I saw Amram perform at the Philly Folk Festival last year – jamming with both David Bromberg and Richard Thompson. He's in great shape and I'm sure we'll see more writing and composing from him in years to come. But, for now, Director Kraman has documented, and given us the pleasure, of Amram's FIRST 8 years.
Engaging Peter (2002)
Funny film by by improvisational actors in LA
Really a pleasant surprise. This film was made at night by a bunch of improvisational actors in LA on a real tight budget. Some of the scenes are really funny and the slow parts are short. Stars Kevin Berntson (a member of the LA improv group The Groundlings, who count Will Ferrell amongst it's members) and Berntson is in nearly every scene. If you can find the DVD (very hard to find) the commentary track really adds to enjoyment. This film should have been entered in some film fests. It's the kind of thing that shows up at Sundance and other indi fests. My favorite scene is the seduction in the bathroom one. (But I won't spoil it. It's cute and funny, not an erotic seduction.
Jazz Ball (1956)
It's now on DVD under different title
This film was on VHS but out of print. I found it packaged as a different title on DVD. "The Golden Age of Jazz" from Music Video Distributors is Part of the Quantum Leap video series from the UK but distributed in US. Print is not great but the performances are. Wait'll you see Sammy Davis Jr. in the finale dance up a storm!Ben Graurer's narration is good once but I don't remember seeing these performances on many other videos. The DVD is priced cheap so is worth picking up. Krupa is great as is the Ina Ray Hutton sequence. She's ALWAYS great on the eyes. The typos on the package are weird. Rudy Vallee is Spelled Rudee Valley!