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Press On

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/14/05 06:03:44

"A well made doco with a positive message. But thatís all."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: Oh sure, thereís nothing at all wrong with Press On as a film. Itís clean, tight, well-produced, and the subject of the film is a good guy with a great outlook on life who rises to the very top of the treeÖ but I still left somewhat underwhelmed. Perhaps itís because Iíve seen so damn many strong documentaries that are life or death stories this past few days, but this perfectly good, completely watchable story of the next big thing in the steel guitar world, just didnít light a fire under my seat.

Robert Randolph is a heck of a musician. A kid who came to the steel guitar from the world of church revival gospel, he learned at the knee of some true greats and has brought the absolute joy of the worlds of music, life and God to his work. His group, known as Robert Randolph and the Family Band, began life playing small church gatherings, but was soon the best kept secret in gospel and funk, drawing a non-church audience into a genre of music that they wouldnít regularly be exposed to.

Randolphís on-stage presence is huge and happy, and his ability with the steel guitar is immense, so as filmmaker Gillian Grismanís cameras follow, the musicianís inevitable rise to stardom hits hard and fast, culminating in a pair of Grammy nominations and an appearance on the Grammy stage playing in front of a host of Randolphís musical heroes.

Itís a great tale of hurrah, and Randolph has to be one of the nicest guys to ever crack it big, bringing pride and happiness to the flock he came from, and the flock he has created, in the process. Around that, Grismanís editing, camerawork, sound production and style can not be faulted. This is a crisp, professional piece of work that should serve as a great lure into whatever future work the filmmaker wants to be involved with, but itís impossible to judge the film alongside similar documentary works that actually have a world-changing topic at their core. Sure, you could argue that Randolph is a man worthy of such exploration, but one suspects that will be much more the case in ten years time, when we know whether fame has affected his all-encompassing optimism and grace.

The music in the film is impeccable - it's all toe-tapping, head-bobbing stuff that is hard to shake off - and on occasion it begins to look like a long music video with the split screen stylings of the filmmaker adding to the groove.

All in all, this is a great piece of work, especially if you dig the music, but in the end itís the kind of thing youíd expect to see on VH1. Great for what it is, but what it is can only ever be judged out of three stars, in my opinion.

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