America's Heart & Soul

on July 02, 2004 by Bridget Byrne
If just the power of positive thinking could make a movie, "America's Heart & Soul" would be one. But it doesn't, and it isn't. This documentary is merely a flipbook--a clip package of interesting snapshots of landscapes and people whirled by fast enough to look like something meaningful, but essentially no more interesting that a neighbor's vacation video. With a beer and a bag of chips, seated on a couch, it would make okay viewing, especially if you could freeze-frame it now and then and ask the filmmaker to elaborate on his brief vignettes about all these folks who just love doing what they do. But viewed in a theater, it becomes something of an irritating blur as it speeds hastily from one feel-good story to the next, and the next, and the next...

Louis Schwartzberg, who is the film's director, producer, cinematographer, camera operator and grip, handles his camera expertly, but his stated choice to try to be objective is a fantasy. To focus on just a slice of someone's life, even if it's the overwhelming passion of that life, is to deny the whole, which in itself is a judgment. That apart, he does capture well the essence of the obsessions which clearly buoy these people up, despite all the other stuff we don't get to know about them. There are references to divorce, alcoholism, poverty, loss of jobs--stuff that makes life difficult--but all that is skirted in favor of various examples of glory, triumph, self-satisfaction, spiritual belief, and dreams (however dotty) fulfilled.

A real documentary about any one of these interesting people--who range from known names like Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and Michael Bennett, ex-con turned Olympic boxer, to musicians tapping into their ethic roots and athletes overcoming physical impediments, as well as horse wranglers, aerobatic flyers, arts and crafts fanatics, steel workers and people of faith--would surely have been a more satisfactory way to reveal how the strength of what's within the heart and soul can sometimes overcome the odds of living in America. Hopefully, next time Schwartzberg can take his obvious talent and refine his focus. Directed by Louis Schwartzberg. Produced by Jake Eberts. A Buena Vista release. Documentary. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Running time: 86 min

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