Inspiration 101 // 2011 // 111 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 19th, 2011
Every Dream Has a Soundtrack
There was a glorious moment in pop history when having a number of female back-up singers was a necessity. Their sweet harmonies, callbacks, and contrast with the main vocalist made them a staple of the era. Chances are if you listened to a singer who wasn't in a band -- I'm talking about names like Elvis, Aretha, and Dusty -- then chances are you've heard the work of one of the more prolific groups of backup singers: The Sweet Inspirations. Sadly, when pop fractured under the weight of rock, punk, and disco, the ladies saw their fortunes wane until the group disbanded in 1979. They reformed, however, and were poised to release new material in the twenty-first century.
This Time sort of follows the Sweet Inspirations as they try to release new material. It also sort of follows Pat Hodges, another famous singer who fell on hard times when her brand of R&B was no-longer chart-worthy. She spent some time living on the street, and with a new producer hopes to release some new music to change her fortunes. The film also follows New York cabaret singer Bobby Belfry. Through veritè-style footage and interviews, This Time tells the stories of their struggles and what it takes to pull through.
The astute reader can already guess what kinds of problems might arise with This Time. First, there are an awful lot of principal characters. That's not necessarily a problem if there's some event or cause uniting them, like a reunion film or the like. That's not the case here. Although Hodges and the Sweet Inspirations share a bit of screen time, there's no real overlap between their stories, nor between Bobby and the rest of the cast. Second, because of the number of principals, it's obvious that the film is going to go long -- and go long it does at 116 minutes. This would be a forgivable infraction if there was a consistent narrative, or if the film didn't feel like three stories haphazardly thrown together.
However, all this only applies if you're looking for a musical documentary, which is what This Time appears to be. Only in the film's final moments (and with a few subtle hints on the packaging) does it truly become clear that this isn't a documentary about music, but a documentary about faith overcoming adversity. All of the characters in this film have suffered serious difficulties, many of them financial in nature. Of course, faith continues to inspire all involved to do more and better work. Does the fact that the film is really about faith change any of the problems? No, not really. The film still feels annoyingly disconnected as it jumps from story to story, and it's way too long by at least 30 minutes. However, put in the context of a film about faith, the stories of struggle and redemption make a little more sense.
This Time looks fine on DVD. It was shot over four-and-a-half years with decent quality video equipment, so the transfer here shows bright, clean colors. Detail is fine, and black levels are consistent. The 5.1 surround track won't blow the doors off, but it presents the film's music well, with decent bass and use of the surrounds. Dialogue spends most of the time front and center, and aside from a few moments captured on the fly, remains clear and audible. The lone extra is a thirty-something-minute collection of interviews with the Sweet Inspirations. The trio discusses their recording history, sharing stories about people like Elvis, Aretha, and Stevie Wonder.
This extra points the way to what the film could have been -- a really interesting look at a forgotten piece of pop culture. By cutting out everything but the Sweet Inspirations, viewers would be left with a solid 80-minute documentary. In that context, those looking for a musical documentary could have been satisfied, while those looking for a faith-based film would still here the ladies' stories of struggle. Instead, there's not enough musical momentum for pop fans, and not enough narrative focus for the faithful.
As a slight, non-denominational inspiration film, This Time isn't a total failure. Those looking for a message that hope and faith can conquer difficult times will surely find it here. However, those looking for a documentary about one of the more famous backup groups in pop history will likely be disappointed with everything but the DVD's special feature.
Guilty of wasting interesting subjects on a bland documentary.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Inspiration 101
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Interviews
* Official Site