America’s Heart & Soul (9/10)
2004 by Tony Medley
This starts with
spectacular aerial shots of America; mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers,
all in gorgeous cinematography by master cinematographer Louis
Schwartzberg. But this is not about geography. It’s about the people
who inhabit the geography.
The first person we
meet is Roudy Roudebush, a horse wrangler in Telluride, Colorado. As
with everyone else we meet in the film, Roudy tells his own story in his
own words (once riding his horse into a saloon to get a drink of water).
After Roudy, we meet 24 more, all telling their own stories in their own
words, all backed up by spellbinding cinematography.
One thing that
struck me was how many of the people we meet have music as a main
fulcrum in their lives. Like George Woodward, a dairy farmer in
Waterbury Center, Vermont. Even though George tells us that being a
dairy farmer is a seven day a week, 52 weeks a year job, he still finds
time to write songs, perform with his band, and direct and act in plays
at the local theater.
The wisdom one
derives from these people is astounding. Minnie Yancey, a Rug Weaver in
Berea, Kentucky, who has been broke many times, says, “You can’t
worry about being broke because in the end all you have is you.”
Although most of the
people we meet are ordinary folk, we do meet some people that society
would hail as successful, like Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben &
Jerry’s Ice Cream in Williston, Vermont, and Ed Holt, a wine grower in
Santa Maria, California. What’s different about them, however, is that
they aren’t the typical Type A, driven personality just working
themselves to death. Both are doing what they love to do, and just
happen to make a lot of money doing it. Holt sums it up, saying, “I
want to die in a vineyard working the grapes. That’s my retirement
The beauty of this
film isn’t limited to the cinematography, which is worth the price of
admission, but in the philosophies of the people profiled. It’s
inspiring to listen to these people who are stars in this film just
because of random choice. Schwatzberg got together his team of eight
people and set out in a van, driving across the country, filming the
vistas and people who struck their fancy.
As an example,
Schwatzberg says, “We were gassing up the van in the hills of
Appalachia when a woman named Minnie Yancey came up to me and said,
‘You don’t look like you’re from these parts. You look a little
lost.’ We had a short conversation, in which I found out she makes
rugs, and we made a plan to come back and film her on the way back; now,
she’s one of my favorite stories in the film. So, did I find Minnie?
Or did Minnie find me?”
This is a film that
will make you laugh and cry. The last vignette is the story of Rick
& Dick Hoyt. Rick was born as a spastic quadriplegic, cerebral
palsy, non-speaking person. Instead of going along with his doctor’s
suggestion and putting him in an institution, his parents kept and
raised him. Dick, his father, became a runner at Rick’s request and
they run in marathons. We see them in the Boston Marathon. If you can
watch this without tears, there’s something wrong. But they are tears
of admiration for the love and dedication of a father for his son.
So the film is a
mixture of laughter, awe, admiration, and poignancy. There’s no
violence, sex, special effects, or plot. But this is one terrific film.
June 4, 2004