September 29, 2001
MOVIE REVIEW | 'WON'T ANYBODY
So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?
By DAVE KEHR
there's one philosophical tenet underlying the last decade of Hollywood
films, it's this: If you go for it, you'll get it. Just believe in
yourself, follow your dream, and like Rocky and his many descendants,
you'll find your talents rewarded and your fantasies fulfilled.
Of course, if there is any place in the world where everyone knows
how phony those messages are, it's Hollywood, where talent often counts
for little or nothing, everyone believes in himself with equal, Deepak
Chopra-induced passion, and dreams are routinely trampled underfoot.
Dov Kelemer's documentary, "Won't Anybody Listen," which
opened yesterday at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in the East Village,
provides a low-key, real-world corrective to the notions conveyed by
"Glitter" and all the other pop-inspirational fantasies in the
marketplace. It's the story of NC-17, a Southern Californian rock band,
whose reasonably talented members have been struggling for survival for
nearly two decades. No dreams of superstardom remain; just being able to
make a living from their music would be enough. But even subsistence
hovers beyond their reach.
Shot in what looks like an amateur video format that switches between
black-and-white and color, "Won't Anybody Listen" focuses on
the pair of brothers, Frank and Vince Rogala, who founded NC-17 in their
tiny, snow-prone hometown, Mackinaw City, Mich.
Through interviews with the brothers — Frank is the front man and
driving force, Vince the sideman and gentle skeptic — Mr. Kelemer
traces the band's long road from total obscurity to nearly total
failure. The boys, with their violinist friend Robin Canada, were lured
to Los Angeles by an enthusiastic record producer whose company
immediately went bankrupt.
With no alternative but going home where their icy, contemptuous
mother still awaits their shame- faced return, the brothers began
playing in Orange County bars and clubs, hoping to pick up a following
that would encourage the attention of a major record label.
So far, that hasn't happened. The band members all have day jobs;
their wives and girlfriends have become resigned to a life of
instability and disappointment; and their standard of living remains
barely above the poverty line.
Mr. Kelemer captures the sad textures of the Rogala brothers' lives
with an appropriate balance of sympathy and detachment. There is none of
the mocking, condescending attitude that currently consumes so many
American documentaries, like the recent "American Movie,"
about a regional filmmaker with similar fantasies of show business
Instead, Mr. Kelemer admires the honesty of their ambitions while
dispassionately chalking up the odds against them. Interviews with
lawyers, agents and the record company A&R men responsible for
discovering and nurturing new acts makes it abundantly clear that, even
if NC-17 were to land a recording contract and produce a hit, its
chances of making any money would remain slim to none, thanks to the
industry's bizarre accounting practices. (For example, all the expenses
incurred in developing a band are charged against its future income.)
Still, the boys won't give up, even as they enter their late 30's
with no encouraging signs on the horizon. Be they glorious dreamers or
just sadly deluded strivers, they earn our respect.