a day for revolution

One of the few failings of Soundtrack for a Revolution is its title. While the music that served as a backdrop for the civil rights movement of the 1960s is certainly a key component of this very absorbing 2009 documentary by Bill Guttentag and Danny Sturman, the film is far more an oral history of Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent protests in eradicating segregation and the racial unrest that grew from it.

That alone makes the film essential viewing on King’s birthday. One World Films will present a free screening of Soundtrack for a Revolution on Monday at the Kentucky Theatre.

But music still speaks volumes in the film, perhaps more so than Guttentag and Sturman intended (more on that in a moment). The thrust is upon performances of songs of solidarity and protest long associated with the civil rights movement as performed by artists of the present day. But even here, such music is very much a “soundtrack” for the story of the movement itself, which is told by those were witnesses to it – namely Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis and the ever eloquent Julian Bond.

The Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles cuts to the quick, though, when exploring the implausibility of segregation extending to graveyards. “Dead people,” he says soberly, “get along with each other.”

A few of the contemporary performances miss their mark simply because the artists – specifically, Joss Stone, Angie Stone (definitely not related) and Mary Mary – sing over fussy, funkified arrangements that tend to dramatize moments in history that need no artificial embellishment. As such, Angie Stone’s performance of Wade in the Water seems a touch redundant when played almost side by side with newsreel footage of crowds singing the song in the early ‘60s accompanied only by handclaps. The sense of soul in the latter is considerably more profound.

Other performances are almost heartbreaking, especially Richie Havens’ sublimely and spiritually subdued reading of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which is interspersed with photographs of the individuals – black and white, male and female, adult and child, military and civilian – murdered during the era’s protests.

Turning up the turbulence are The Roots who breathe new but unforced urgency into Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around. Later, John Legend, accompanying himself on piano, serves Stayin’ on Freedom as an affirmation as the film concludes with King’s 1968 assasination in Memphis.

But there is a truly frightening musical moment early in the film that quietly underscores the depth of cultural division that existed, especially in the south, prior to the civil rights movement. It’s a film clip designed like a piece of war propaganda titled The Message from Mississippi. It details segregation and racial inequality as absurdly acceptable components of daily life in the early ‘60s. Employed as a backdrop is a bit of orchestral muzak, the kind of music one might have heard on period family TV shows like Leave it to Beaver. It chirps along unassumingly, as if to enforce the fact that social injustice was, in that day, perfectly acceptable, that life in Mississippi was fine just the way it was.

It’s an effectively disgusting reminder that we have indeed traveled far from the days before King’s dream took hold. Luckily the music that Soundtrack for a Revolution can truly call its own, speaks in louder terms of an honest and more lasting truth.   

Soundtrack for a Revolution will be shown at 2 p.m. Monday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main. Admission is free. Call (859) 231-7924. The film is also available on DVD.

`The Dress’

The Washington Post December 11, 1997 | Meg Dennison My daughter reaches for the worn cotton-knit dress in my closet, yanking it from the hanger to the floor. “How about this one?” she inquires sweetly. go to website easrer dresses

My normal uniform of jeans and T-shirts is wearing on 3-year-old Alison, but that doesn’t deter her from pulling another dress from the closet for me when I decline the cotton knit.

“This one would be bootiful,” she insists. I try another tactic. “Aren’t I beautiful to you because you love me?” I see she’s considering this. She looks at me, then the dress in her hand, then back to me with my unbrushed hair, my frumpy dressing gown, my wool socks that have fallen down below my ankles. “No,” she says firmly, shoving the dress in my direction. Alison believes in dresses for any occasion, a strict outlook on life that I only really began to understand with the arrival of the Christmas Dress. Her grandma sent her the dress to wear for Christmas dinner, a dress-up occasion in our family when I get out of jeans and even put on perfume. The children’s clothes are usually festive reds or greens, in velvet, and sometimes even the very dress that I had worn at the same age. The Christmas Dress that arrived one day in early December was a departure from the traditional. But Alison fell in love with it immediately. It is green gingham with puffed sleeves and a fitted bodice. It has a detachable ruffled white yoke that’s decorated with a hand-painted jolly red-cheeked Santa and elf. When Christmas is over, the yoke comes off and two happy green turtles, painted on the bodice, take over. Alison wore the dress that night. All night. She slept in it and wore it to the park the next day. It was on day three that I knew we were in trouble. “How about this dress today?” I suggested, holding up one of her other favorites. Alison just wasn’t interested. She wore the Christmas dress every day, and a whole bunch of nights, too. It’s hard to describe how much Alison loves this dress. She walks up to complete strangers, runs both hands down over the turtles and skirt, and says, “Do you like my Christmas Dress?” To friends, she doesn’t have to ask. They have, by now, learned to comment on its beauty. As you might imagine, washing the dress has been a problem. Logistically, much harder than snatching a kid’s blanket while she sleeps. I was forced to resort to some serious bribery. “If you let me wash it, I’ll wear a dress today — any dress you want to pick out,” I promised. This approach taught me one thing: As much as Alison dearly wants me to dress up, she wants to wear the Christmas Dress more. A friend said I should be thankful. Her daughter wore a pumpkin outfit for a year. It’s been three seasons now and the Christmas Dress is still a daily favorite. Miraculously, it still fits, although last month my mother had to sew the buttons on tighter and hem it again. The turtles are beginning to fade. We hardly notice it anymore. She wore it last weekend on a hike in the woods, and while the other kids might have thought it was an odd outfit, we saw no problem. It’s no longer catalogue-cute, but it’s a dress that can hold up to the monkey bar climbing and wrestling with a big brother. In fact, I think something here is starting to rub off. The other day I was shopping in the funky secondhand store where I buy my T-shirts and shorts and I found myself reaching past the pastels and grabbing instead a slinky, leopard print blouse. It slipped easily over my head and immediately felt just right. I stood in front of the mirror, admiring the way the gold brought out the blond highlights in my hair. I loved the way the accordion folds fell so nicely on my bare shoulders. This is it, I said. I’ve got to have this. In that moment, standing there in front of the mirror, I knew just how Alison felt. I knew, at last, the power of the Christmas Dress. And I finally had something to wear with those plush purple shoes, the ones with the rhinestones, the ones that Alison loves me to wear. web site easrer dresses

Meg Dennison

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