At The Movies, The '60s Beat Goes On For the last two summers, movie musicals have been big hits, so you'd expect Hollywood to stock the multiplex with more of the same. Instead, this summer, there are no musicals at all. But a cluster of movies will set audience toes tapping to the beat of a specific moment in time.
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At The Movies, The '60s Beat Goes On

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At The Movies, The '60s Beat Goes On

At The Movies, The '60s Beat Goes On

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Movie musicals have been big hits in recent summers past: "Mama Mia" last year, "Hairspray" the year before. So you'd expect Hollywood to stock the multiplex with more of the same this summer, and you'd be wrong.

By our count, there are no musicals at all. But a cluster of movies will set audience's toes tapping.

And critic Bob Mondello has noticed that all of them sway to the beat of a specific moment in time.

BOB MONDELLO: With a hit Broadway revival of "Hair" singing about the Age of Aquarius, what is Hollywood celebrating this summer?

Unidentified Man #1: Janis Joplin.

Unidentified Man #2: Grateful Dead, The Who.

Unidentified Man #3: Can you connect me with something called Woodstock Ventures?

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: The 1969 music festival that changed the way music got festive is being played for laughs and nostalgia in "Taking Woodstock," one of a late-summer crush of pictures that have been consciously built around the music of the flower power years.

That's a period generally remembered by those of us who lived through it, and also in movies produced by folks who lived through it, as either a sacred time of peace, love and great music, or as a faintly embarrassing time of paisley bellbottoms and great music.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Late 1960s, early 1870s, rock was going psychedelic, soul was going gritty, and young people - at least according to another upcoming comedy, "Pirate Radio" - wore their musical tastes as proudly as they did their long hair and peace crosses.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pirate Radio")

Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (As character) Official sources were today sad to announce the separation of Simon Swofford and his wife, Eleanor(ph), after 17 hours of marriage. It is understood the split is due to musical differences.

MONDELLO: Simon Swofford is a disc jockey in "Pirate Radio" on a fictional pirate radio station anchored just off the coast of England, where British authorities can't touch it.

There's a historical basis for this. There were quite a few real offshore radio stations in the 1960s because the licensed BBC stations didn't play much music, and what they played was not rock. For the youth culture, pirate radio was a big deal, as of course was music in general globally, as we learn in another movie.

(Soundbite of documentary, "Soul Power")

Unidentified Man #5 (Actor): (As character) We were waiting at the airport for six hours, man.

Unidentified Man #6 (Actor): (As character) There were about 300,000 people.

Unidentified Man #5: (As character) (Unintelligible). It feels like there were 300,000 people on this plane.

MONDELLO: This plane was flying to Africa, where it is sacred moment's time in the documentary "Soul Power." The film was edited from footage shot 35 years ago, when a three-day concert tied to the George Foreman-Muhammad Ali "Rumble in the Jungle" brought together many of the world's most prominent black musicians.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #7 (Singer): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

MONDELLO: Blues great B.B. King and King of Soul James Brown sharing the stage with the likes of South Africa's Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Call it a cross-cultural Woodstock, a turning point for African and African-American artists, who compared notes on colonial and segregational oppression and on making music as a social statement.

Every generation thinks its music is different from what went before. But four decades ago, the differences were both artistic and technical, something brought out in another summer documentary called "It Might Get Loud," about the once-newfangled thing called an electric guitar.

Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, who is sort of the movie's elder statesman, remembers an early day when he asked a tech guy to help him match a sound that was rattling around in his head.

(Soundbite of documentary, "It Might Get Loud")

(Soundbite of electric guitar)

Mr. JIMMY PAGE (Musician): And he went away and came back with this phenomenal thing, the distortion pedal, which overloads the signal, overdrive the sound and make it sound pretty rude.

MONDELLO: Rude, the sound of rebellion, the sound that helps make that time feel, in retrospect, like a sacred moment or something to be a little embarrassed about today, or maybe a sacred moment to be a little embarrassed about, a time when a generation got briefly woodstuck, taking everything seriously, especially music because music was going to change the world. As these movies collectively remind you, for a while, it kind of did.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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