Judge Kristin Munson plays in her local orchestra as a second chair triangle.
"We'll show the strengths of Italy's immigrants."
Have you ever been watching a movie montage and thought to yourself, "Gee, this is fun, with the quick cuts and the peppy song I know from a bunch of other montages (Seriously Britain, put "Make Me Smile" out to pasture for a while). I wish the whole movie could be like this!"
Well, let's pretend you have. The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio is what that movie would look like: the cinematic equivalent of a free form jam session. The movie calls itself a "Docu-musical," but everything happens just like it would if it were a musical of the Hollywood variety.
Problem: An historic theater and local Roman landmark is about to be turned into a bingo hall.
Solution: A group of citizens decides to assemble some talent and put on a show to save The Apollo, proving that even Italians have seen Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films. And they aren't going to put on just any old song & dance act, they're going to create a music group out of Italy's growing immigrant population and perform as a full orchestra, with each musician bringing the songs and instruments from their motherlands to create a musical melting pot.
Conflict: A prominent music festival offers them a performance spot but they have just six musicians, and only a few months to find the rest, write the songs, and come together as a band.
Colorful side characters: A slick Arabian singer who's never without shades and a blue tooth; a gentle Cuban giant who does yoga; a drummer who lives in his storage unit; a prima donna Indian vocalist.
Orchestra's storyline is pretty irrelevant. What would be a jolly montage of finding the musicians and transforming them into a functioning orchestra takes up the entire film, so the individual stories and ticking clock are much smaller pieces of the whole. The struggle to find competent musicians in a population of immigrants leads to people offering records instead of actual singers(comedy!), visa issues(conflict!), and the kind of unlikely miracles that happen in artistic communities where everyone knows each other(lucky coincidence!).
Mixed into the documentary are breaks where songs are turned into mini musical numbers. The band has a style of world music all its own, using Arabic ouds, Indian tablas, and a xylophone made from wires instead of wood, and freely mixing the languages being sung. There's mambo and funk mixed with Classical strings and a chirpy Indian love song slowed into a Bluesy lament. The finale is an infectious club mix that's Bollywood by way of The Bee-Gees. Not only did I watch the entire credit crawl; I danced and I defy you to click the music video link in the sidebar and not do the same.
These non-story sections are shot in a '70s handheld style complete with oversaturated blues and fake scratches that look pretty but murky in the widescreen transfer, with the low-budget film used in the regular doc shots also sporting some fuzziness. The 2.0 stereo does its job but doesn't give the songs the aural oomph they need, which I was expecting once I saw the organizers and musicians holding the boom in many shots. Genius Productions has included a trailer and some live footage of the orchestra in action. I was hoping "Live From the IFC Center" was going to be a full concert but it's a two song performance by the group members who could make it to the New York premiere. It's a stripped down version of the orchestra, but it's cool to see the band 6 years on and still going strong.
The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio gets at least half of the docu-musical equation right: the documentary portion is shallow, if sweet, but the soundtrack sticks with you for days.
Guilty of not being pitch perfect.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Live at the IFC Center
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