Tuesday, August 07, 2012

This Time: Show Business is a Grind

It is hard to be talented, at least in show business.  As mediocrities rise, worthy artists often languish in near obscurity, especially if they have a style slightly difficult to package for mass market consumption.  Victor Mignatti follows six performers who have had just enough success to keep plugging away at their careers in This Time (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

At one time, the Sweet Inspirations were a top act on the so-called “chitlin” circuit.  They were on a major record label and charted fairly often.  Things slowed down for them somewhat when Cissy Houston left to pursue a solo career, but they were still heard by millions when they became Elvis Presley’s regular back-up singers.  They still love the King and pay the bills through their performances at tribute shows.  However, they are hoping to get back on the charts and into the spotlight with a new album.

Peitor Angell is a busy man.  He is producing the Sweet Inspirations’ album as well as comeback projects for one-time soul diva Pat Hodges, the former member of Hodges, James & Smith (HJS).  He also has his own solo projects.  The audience will see a lot of his townhouse, which serves as his informal studio, where the Inspirations and Hodges lay down their tracks.

Meanwhile in New York, Bobby Belfry pays his dues as an aspiring cabaret singer, while mostly working at the Upper Eastside piano bar Brandy’s.  He has no connection to Angell (as for as viewers know), self-producing his own CDs.  Frankly, he would like to find producer willing to take him on, but cabaret is a specialized field, misunderstood by many.  Nonetheless, Belfry has an opportunity to make a statement when he books a CD/DVD release gig at Feinstein’s, arguably the country’s premiere room for cabaret performance.

Mignatti somehow gives each their due as they strive for their next and/or first big break.  For some, their drive to advance in the business starts to flag during this time, while the Angell, the uncanny multi-tasker produces a rap label’s guest vocal track by original and defining Sweet Inspiration Cissy Houston, only to be robbed of his credit in an act of supreme (but not inconsequential) pettiness.

This is why Hollywood often portrays businessmen as villains.  It does not acutely reflect the character of the overall private sector, but it holds a mirror up to the ethically challenged entertainment field.  Should my publishing company ever fabricate excuses to withhold royalties, they would become a pariah, yet such practices were commonplace in the recording industry for decades—and probably still are.  Such is the business the This Time artists are trying to make it in.  It certainly is not easy.

While stylistically, the Sweet Inspirations and Belfry do not necessarily clash, per se, they are not an obvious tandem.  Hodges on the other hand, could easily share a playlist with the Inspirations.  Still, Angell’s own project, leading a Jackie Gleason-style lounge band under his “Monte Carlo” persona, is not so far removed from Belfry’s act.  So maybe they all fit together, but the film still feels like it whipsaws about a bit.

Regardless, This Time is a sympathetic and engaging boots-on-the-ground look at music as an unforgiving business.  It should be an eye-opener for many viewers, especially those who have ever stiffed a band’s tip jar or make a practice of illegally downloading music.  This film puts a human face on such boorish behavior.  That is a worthy enough endeavor, right there.  Recommended with some affection, This Time opens this Friday (8/10) in New York at the Quad Cinema.