Song Sung Blue (2008) dir. Greg Kohs
Mike and Claire Sardina are easy targets for documentary treatment. Over the past 17 years the duo have become local Milwaukee celebs performing as a Neil Diamond/Patsy Cline cover band under the moniker “Lighting and Thunder”. Both are those celebrity-wannabes that live for the limelight no matter how dull or dim that light is. The Milwaukee cover band scene is small enough but their semi-cult following has given them dreams of grandeur.
The duo reaches their height of success when they play to over 30,000 people at a Pearl Jam concert with Eddie Vedder. But when a random accident cripples Claire, their energy to perform is diffused causing a serious rupture in their domestic bliss. With the band defunct Mike and Claire’s lives devolve into passionless existence. The film goes through the usual rise and fall and rise again path.
Its people like Mike and Claire that made the wonderful HBO series “Flight of the Conchords” so enjoyable. Lighting and Thunder (their given names are rarely used) are like Jemaine and Bret - they are so naïve to the realities of show business, yet they perform every show with every ounce of their limited talents. Usually these average Joes with hearts of gold makes for good viewing, and some rave reviews would suggest I'm in the minority, but Lighting and Thunder, their joie de vivre aside, are mildly interesting people at best.
Director Greg Kohs is a little sloppy in his storytelling, the film is cut together with a vast amount of what looks like home video footage shot by either Lighting, Thunder or their kids. Greg never establishes a timeline. And so the only reference to date becomes their fashion and hairstyles. Eddie Vedder’s appearance grounds the backstory to the mid 90’s, other than that is a slightly confusing journey.
Director Kuhs over-embellishes the ugliness of the film. The opening scene features Mike’s crotch and his droopy briefs framed as he sets up the camcorder for a confession. He then puts his face so close to the lens his black pores look like saucers. It’s just one example of many where Kuhs consciously uses the ugliest footage of his characters to generate either humour or sympathy. His mixture of tape quality ranges from Americas Funniest Home Videos rejected footage to passable quality sit down interviews. In the second half of the film Kuhs eats up screen time shooting lengthy and banal kitchen conversations with the Sardina family. Claire’s kids become key characters as the film moves along but their actions only adds to the exploited ugliness of small town America. Kuhs even shows us the screaming birth footage of Claire’s soon-to-be-given-up-for-adoption granddaughter.
All of this extraneous footage had me asking why? Kuhs seems to be passing time to get to his impossibly poignant finale when Eddie Vedder enters the saga once again with a gift which couldn’t have been written better in a feature film. This great life-fulfilling moment almost makes this long ugly journey worth it.