September 29, 2001


So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?


If  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 success.

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.

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