Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Did I Like August Rush?

The first thing you may notice about this post is that I didn't title it "Why I Liked August Rush." I titled this post "Why Did I Like August Rush?" because I very seriously am not sure why I liked it.

August Rush is the story of a young boy, unwittingly given up for adoption by his mother, who has the prodigious ability to learn musical instruments and create remarkable music. His mother, a cellist, and the singer-songwriter she shared a one night stand with are separated by her driven father, who also signs away her son and tells her he's dead. She doesn't believe it, though, because she can hear him in the music of the wind, or something like that.

Her son, Evan, hears the same music, and it keeps his hope alive about eventually being reconnected with his parents. He hits the streets and encounters a malicious music manager who discovers his talent and renames him August. From there he's discovered by a pastor who knows people at Julliard. Long story short: six months later he leads the New York Philharmonic in an open-air concert that draws his parents to him and each other. Hilarity, as the face of actress Keri Russel reveals, ensues.

The premise and the plot are entirely ludicrous, almost at every turn. And the music, while entertaining, is far from innovative. But none of that seems to matter to me. I liked the movie, and I'd even consider seeing it again.

The movie isn't about plot or premise or story but music--more specifically, the idea of music. The music is communicated as much visually as aurally, and the visuals are stunning, with the minor exception of scenes where the kid pretends to conduct. The movie is about harmonics; people are brought together by the music that connects them. It's a nice idea that, for all its flaws, makes for a nice story.

The night before I saw the movie I attended the first of a series of praise concerts our church is putting on. It strikes me that praise music is the closest approximation to the dynamic being postulated in August Rush. Don Saliers, a Methodist pastor and father of Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, wrote about the dynamic in the book Practicing Our Faith:

In our present North American cultural context, the singing assemblies in our churches and synagogues are among the few remaining places where words and music actually form human beings in a communal identity. The phenomenon of public singing at civic events has shriveled to an occasional "Happy Birthday" or "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," or perhaps a weak effort at the national anthem. But when people meet to worship, . . . this identity flows out of an ancient story that continues to take on new life.


I ran into the sound technician at the praise concert during a break in the rehearsal; he had ear buds in so that he could listen to the Green Bay Packers Game. He took them out during the actual concert, of course, but that image was striking: a communal singing event subverted by the retreat to a private listening event. That's how we listen to music typically these days--in isolation from one another--but increasingly that's how we watch movies and perhaps even enter into worship.

I guess that's why I liked August Rush: it keeps alive the audacious notion that music is not meant to be captured and guarded like some ring of power but to forge a connection between performer and listener, between conductor and performer, between participant and participant, and in the most cosmic sense, between God and his creation.

Not bad for a preposterously plotted film in the cheap theaters.

2 comments:

bob/serpentuh said...

Technology is creating a rift between the listener and the artist.

Recording: It is possible and reasonably priced to be able to create a "perfect recording". You don't have to be able to play an entire song perfectly...just little bits.

Concerts: Want to see what your favorite band sounds like live? Doesn't exist anymore. Technology allows them to add/play along with additional instruments and vocals. That's not live...it's kinda live.

I truly believe that music is a human experience. A performer can connect with listener, but the more a performer uses technology to "improve" themselves, the less human it really is. The less human it is, the less someone can connect.

Llama Momma said...

I hate movies like this that perpetuate bad stereotypes about adoption. The wounded birthmother, the "incomplete" son -- is it any wonder our society doesn't see adoption as a viable option to unplanned pregnancy?

Ugh.