'Great World of Sound'


To paraphrase an old adage, never eat at a place called "Mom's," never play cards with a guy named Slim, and never work on commission for a guy named Shank. It seems obvious advice, without even knowing that Shank (John Baker) is the prince of darkness in Craig Zobel's brilliantly original "Great World of Sound," and a heartless hustler whose only gift is knowing how to exploit the talents of others.

People like Shank are ubiquitous in the history of American music, especially black music, where music rights and record royalties were at one time as ephemeral as the vote. But Shank isn't the main character in "Great World of Sound." Modeled after the Maysles' brothers 1969 classic documentary "Salesman," whose Bible vendors weren't quite aware they were hustling the poor and clueless, "GWOS" is the story of Martin and Clarence (Pat Healy and Kene Holliday), two guys so in need of a job that they're conned into being con men.

Having answered an ad in a Charlotte, N.C., newspaper placed by a company called Great World of Sound (the initials of which just happen to be Shank's), Martin and Clarence are sent on the road to discover and sign new talent. It is, as one might expect, a process that involves some of the more pitiable noisemakers in the South. Occasionally they find a pearl -- as in the case of the young Kyndra Kent (Mahari Conston) and her beautifully disjointed "new national anthem". Regardless, they are told, they have to collect from the "artists" either the entire 30 percent of the $10,000 it will take to record their CD, or a "good faith" offering, and most of the hopefuls cough it up, regardless of their ability to pay.

It takes Martin and Clarence some time to wake up to the fact that they're part of a cruel, felonious manipulation of some rather pathetic people -- Clarence, who's the really gifted salesman of the two, is more reluctant to face facts. But Holliday's performance is the more deft of the two: As his tongue eventually gets caught up in his conscience, Clarence's well-oiled rap starts to break down, despite himself. It's a terrific performance by Holliday, and quite a subtle quality in a film that models itself on verite documentary.

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