Great World of Sound
2007Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Pat Healy, John Baker
he documentaries have been with us for at least a couple years now, but this fall we’re finally being barraged by a wave of fiction films dealing with the war in Iraq. In its own way, Craig Zobel’s film feels like a response to Bush’s policies, which here have left the same group of working class people who’ve gotten dragged overseas into an incomprehensible conflict open to the depredations of predatory, immoral businesses at home. The mood is not dissimilar to Robert Altman in the 1970’s—the obsessed gamblers in California Split, for example—both in terms of acting and technical details like sound design and pervasive zoom.
Martin (Pat Healy), our luckless protagonist, begins the movie in a parking lot preparing for a job interview. Soon an information session follows and in a couple days he’s hired to as a record producer audition new talent for Great World of Sound, an outfit run by a smooth-talking executive named Shank (John Baker). As he guides the initiates through the ins and outs of getting a potential client to sign a contract, Shank lets the shady particulars of the process slip through here and there, attempting to overshadow the underhanded nature of the business with a crooked smile and the projection of an image of success that could only excite the sort of person down and out enough to wind up at Great World of Sound in the first place.
The dialogue is ripe with humor throughout, though the laughs are increasingly dark and mirthless as the salesmen follow the seemingly endless downward spiral. Martin and his partner, Clarence (Kene Holliday), move from awkwardness through companionship to eventual hostility. Zobel broaches thorny issues of class and race—Martin is white and Clarence black—but in a way germane to the story rather than setting them up to poke out as important issues to be discussed in study groups after the credits roll.
While many viewers will probably be attracted to the film by what seems to be a depiction of the sleazier side of the music industry, it’s painfully clear by the end that this alleged record company has absolutely nothing to do with music whatsoever. Instead, the film is ultimately about the depredations of corrupt profiteers with no regard for those beneath them. Even at the very beginning, with the opening shot of someone creating a “gold” record followed by Martin’s resourceful solution to his wardrobe malfunction, the prominence of false appearances is apparent. Zobel forces us to finally join his characters in the loneliness of destitution, all the more painful when caused by a heartless pyramid scheme, one in which Martin invested so much of himself financially and emotionally.
As with any unwitting participant in a corrupt system, particularly when that system seems to be the only available option, Martin can hardly shoulder much of the blame for the disaster his life becomes. He’s just looking for a job, not even a career or opportunity for advancement, just something to pay the bills until his girlfriend’s artwork starts to earn some money. It’s simply his strong desire to succeed (or, perhaps, desperation not to continue a long string of failure), reluctance to abandon a comrade, and willful naiveté that lead him to betray those he is supposedly serving, until ultimately he’s stranded by an organization that has gone looking for its next scapegoat. He could just as easily be a recently enlisted private far from home, obeying increasingly inhumane orders until he finds himself imprisoned for torture, but instead Martin is granted a less exotic fate, ruining the lives of young musicians, as well as his own, here on the home front.
Great World of Sound is currently playing in New York City.
By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-10-04