POSTED ON JULY 4, 2012:
Rock-and-Roll Dreams and Whimsy
Finding a rock-and-roll heart in unlikely places
I've found that every now and then, you find inspiration in the most unlikely places. Sometimes it's a band you didn't expect to enjoy, an album that gets passed on to you from a friend, an opening act you weren't aware of, or even a movie. Yes, you heard me right -- a movie.
This past weekend was one where I found that unexpected inspiration in a movie. Summer has arrived, the temperatures are climbing to the edge of miserable and I have a hard time remembering the last time I heard a band that hit me as completely fresh and unique: it's probably been a year-and-a-half. Don't get me wrong. I love the local music scene, but just like everyone else, I get a little burned out at times too.
Perhaps that's why The Rock 'n' Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher came relatively out of left field for me when I watched it this weekend. Now, I know normally I should leave a movie review for those in the know, like my good compatriot, Joe O'Shansky but my experience wasn't so much about the movie, per se, as the whole package.
Granted, I'm not much of a movie guy. I don't pick them apart and dissect them. I don't make time to watch them that often, and when I do, more often than not, I'd prefer to settle in with an old favorite than screen something new. On the rare occasion I get the time to watch a movie, it's more about disconnecting from reality and relaxing. In fact, my standards are admittedly not particularly high. If I walk away saying a movie sucked, it's got to be truly horrible.
I'll also admit that I put off watching this Duncan Christopher flick. Sure, I'd heard about it and a good buddy has been pestering me to see it for months. But have you heard the premise? I mean, really: the son of a cult-figure type rock icon finally embraces his calling to music via singing in a karaoke competition? Oh, shoot me already.
Once I sat down and put it in, however, it was oddly engaging and poignant. It's funny and just a little serious at the same time and hard to describe: one part Eddie and the Cruisers, one part Napoleon Dynamite, one part Tapeheads and just a dash of Clerks. It's witty and snarky, yet naïve and hopeful all at the same time. And it's not nearly as cheesy as it sounds (albeit not completely cheese-free, by any means).
So just what was it that won me over? It was a combination of things. At first, I was drawn in by the setting. Filmed in Tulsa, I spent most of the movie picking out the locations and their proximity: from Suede and In the Raw in Brookside to downtown's Gypsy Coffeehouse, it's a video postcard of Tulsa on the backside of a story.
And then there's the story itself. Once you get past the initial "oh, it's a karaoke movie" impression -- which I admit took quite an effort on my part, it's really about self discovery and discovering your love for music. As it were, the main character lives with the memory of his iconic father trying to hand down the mantle of rock-and-roll to his son telling him cryptically "Music and magic ... Put them together and pow!" before taking his own life.
As fate would have it, Duncan grows up in Collinsville, where his reclusive father moved the family near the end of his career, wrapped up in video games and Dungeons and Dragons before having an epiphany at the age of thirty and deciding he needs to follow his call to music.
His best friend and cousin, Charlie, convinces him to move to the "big city," and the only music Mecca they know, to follow his dream -- and the two land in Tulsa. Acting as his manager (complete with a contract the two signed when they were kids), Charlie gets Duncan a gig, but declines telling him it's a karaoke competition, instead assuring him to stick to the cover tunes for now, until Duncan wises up and corners him.
Ultimately, the two seek council (and a place to stay) from their Uncle Virgil, who was the primary band mate and confidant of Duncan's father and the old man provides them direction. Of course, there's the obligatory love interest and twists to the plot, but that all comes part and parcel with the package.
Of course, there's also a degree to which you'll have to suspend reality to believe Duncan's progress through the karaoke challenge. After all, he's waiting until the age of thirty before starting on his journey and his vocal abilities follow appropriately: they're serviceable, but certainly not overwhelming. Perhaps it fits the karaoke subtext: He's not horrible, but certainly not great.
More than anything, it's a voyage of self discovery as Christopher Duncan finds himself and sheds the props he brings with him from the world of Dungeons and Dragons to rediscover his father's music and ultimately perform his own song, inevitably forfeiting in the ultimate karaoke showdown with the local karaoke champ and overall douche bag, SI (Simply Irresistible).
As odd as it sounds, the absurdity of it all actually works to the movie's advantage, making it even more whimsical and engaging. In fact, it's that whimsy and personal journey that hooked director and producer Justin Monroe and convinced him to get involved in the project.
I met with him a few weeks ago and the Tulsa native admitted he initially had no intention of making this film. Having relocated to Los Angeles, he spent roughly the last 10 years developing his skills and had a major film lined up which went on hold when negotiations to secure the lead actor fell through. A phone call shortly thereafter from an old friend, Jack Roberts, told him "I know what you're working on next. ..."
As fate would have it, Roberts had written the script for The Rock 'n' Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher and although Monroe fought the idea of returning to Tulsa and devoting his time and efforts to the film, after reading the script he was hooked.
It not only ends up an engaging and whimsical journey into self discovery, but also something of a love letter to Tulsa. Every actor in the film is a native Oklahoman, from Peter Bedgood (who plays cousin Charlie) and Marshall Bell (Uncle Virgil) to a an eclectic and mesmerizing performance by Lizz Carter as Geneveve, Duncan's love interest.
Perhaps more importantly, aside from a handful of karaoke performances of songs like "Feel Like Makin' Love," "Broken Wings" and "Only the Lonely," the soundtrack is inhabited completely by Oklahoma bands. Sherree Chamberlain, Ryan Lindsey and Colourmusic are featured prominently along with tracks by Vandevander, Ithica and Cheyenne. Even the score is written by Tulsa natives in collaboration with local musicians Damion Shade, Mason Remel and Mike Sawyer. All in all, it wraps the movie appropriately and ultimately makes for a solid soundtrack.
After making the rounds at the film festivals and winning some key awards, The Rock 'n' Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher landed a couple of screenings in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, including a screening at Circle Cinema in May before going the video route. Monroe has secured distribution for the movie and for the even more impressive soundtrack via Velvet Blue Music. You can check out the movie on Netflix within the next few weeks, or even better via iTunes (where a larger share of the revenues go back to the filmmakers and artists), where it's already available for rental or purchase, along with the soundtrack.
Honestly, it's hard to explain as the flick has an intangible quality that goes with its dry wit and whimsy. Somewhere in the midst of the character's naivety, the picture of Tulsa and the locally minded soundtrack, however, I was reminded just how much I love Tulsa's music scene -- and just how glad I am that I don't have to sing karaoke. Take a night to check it out yourself, and maybe you'll remember to appreciate T-Town a little more, too.
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