MOVIE REVIEWS : 'HEARTSTRINGS': MUSIC AND POLITICS

'I feel I've been heart-washed," says Paul Stookey near the conclusion of "Heartstrings: Peter, Paul & Mary in Central America" (playing at the Los Feliz, today, Saturday and Sunday).

Music and humanity overflow in this new documentary but it's doubtful that the sincerity of its condemnation of U.S. government activity in El Salvador and Nicaragua will play to other than the already converted. The attitude is all too obvious, the arguments familiar and the old leftist sentiments a tired anachronism.

The trio's 1986 concerts in the embattled nations are the jumping-off point for this modestly produced political travelogue. Between engagements, they venture into the hinterlands to speak with ordinary people who have confronted extraordinary pain. The stories of death, displacement and precarious existence that they are told have enormous emotional impact. They do not, however, reveal the nature of a political struggle that is largely unfathomable to the average American.

What is particularly unsettling are the roles Peter, Paul and Mary assume. Whether by intention or necessity, they present themselves as being hopelessly naive--unable to do more than absorb what they hear and see. Their questions to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, for instance, serve as nothing more than a conduit to allow him to delineate his political program.

The fierce emotional stance of "Heartstrings" (Times rated: Family) does not allow for neutral responses. At the same time, the film unfairly assumes its audience is imbued with a knowledge of Central American politics and attitudes that enables it to answer--as the song says--"which side are you on?"

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