Whatever the initial intentions of the makers of “Let the Good Times Roll”, the resulting movie takes a lesser bite out of its subject than the opening few minutes might promise, as the film’s creeping inconsistency of focus makes much of the initial richly sardonic editorial stance problematic by the directors (Sid Levin and Robert Abel) who openly demonstrate what is possible but then allow the opening suggestion of satiric inspiration to fizzle out, especially when such a carefully modulated jaundiced eye might make the film resonate in interesting ways; certainly reaching far beyond the film’s ultimate ambitions.
Whatever else “Let the Good Times Roll” may be, it is also an ultimately depressing film; a peculiar result from a movie which openly celebrates a time (the 1950’s) and place (America, though mostly concentrated around the images and lifestyle of middle class white bread America), and the revolutionary music of that era (rock and roll) which indelibly defined the culture of the nation. That this definition is more proves to have more resonance than the film recognizes is one of its many shortcomings as a project that might lay claims to a fraternity with the documentary form. The opening minutes display a whimsy that signals a gentle (and deserved) thumbing of the nose at the era’s self-appointed authorities of moral piety who clamor for a preservation of American values and codes of decency by imposing a fascistic clamp on the thoughts and actions of the entire community. These documentary representations are among the initial delights of the movie, briefly instilling the proceedings with an absurdist example of civil service gobbledygook comparable to the infamous government issued atomic bomb warning such as “Duck and Cover”, similarly expressing dire messages which presume the viewer to be of a very limited intelligence. In “Let the Good Times Roll” this material, in retrospect, appears almost self-deprecating- a fiery sermon excoriating the deviant impulses drawn out by “the beat, the beat, the beat” (as if Benny Goodman arrangements or Strauss waltzes or gospel spirituals aren’t based on rhythmic patterns); a representative of a Long Island Jr. High School PTA reads a prepared statement over inappropriate student clothing, words that might carry more weight if she weren’t wearing a hat indistinguishable from a “Plan 9 From Outer Space” flying saucer -as the socially apocalyptic warnings are so overheated with emotion but lacking both reason and a charitable faith in the basic goodness of their communities that they undermine their own concerns with inevitable eye-rolling results. However, wisely neither Levin nor Abel show the slightest interest in sledgehammer response tactics, but rather allow the material to speak for itself: the film clips of erroneous delinquent behavior is mainly represented by predictable clips of “The Blackboard Jungle” and “The Wild One” and their hysterical depictions of rather aged youth run amok, while the vast majority of material depicting clean-cut teens more than refutes the calculated Hollywood attempts at stoking imaginary fires over invisible pandemics featuring adolescents destructively unchecked by way of the demon influence of a musically spread contagion.
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