With touches of American Idol and Young@Heart, American Harmony
goes deep inside the obsessive and entertaining world of the very best of barbershop quartets as they prepare for the International Championships of Barbershop Singing held in Indianapolis in 2006.
There's Max Q, a heavy favorite after having come in second twice. Comprised of former champions (It's a competition rule that once your quartet must disband if you win the gold medal), Max Q enters the competition as a crowd and critical darling.
OC Times captured the bronze in 2005, and this young quartet of heartthrobs seems destined for greater things.
Reveille is a sentimental favorite, a group of older barbershop singers who compensate for a little less vocal prowess with a more entertaining and humorous show. Their humor is tinged by a touch of sadness as one of their members deals with brain cancer.
Then, there's the new kids on the block... almost literally. Vocal Spectrum is a rookie group of young whippersnappers who have taken the barbershop scene by storm and whose potential for a win is very real.
A festival fave during its run, with award wins at Las Vegas Film Festival and Honolulu International Film Festival, American Harmony
is an entertaining, feel good and spirited documentary that avoids the tension that must've necessarily come during a competition that resulted in the closest ever and, perhaps, most controversial competition.
director Aengus James does a terrific job of weaving together a behind-the-scenes look at the world of barbershop singing with the everyday lives of the people who enjoy it, ranging from OC Times' Shawn, a Chick-Fil-A manager, to the very real tensions that can naturally arise amongst talented singers even in a competition that may not necessarily be a household name.
The stories that unfold are dramatic, frequently touching and occasionally quite funny. Whether you're a fan of barbershop singing or not, there's much to enjoy about a documentary that focuses on men of all ages chasing their dreams with remarkable talent, style and commitment.
The way that James intersperses so much gentle humor into the film also brings to mind another recent doc focusing on a largely unknown world, Dumbstruck,
which explored the world of professional and wannabe professional ventriloquists. It's these types of stories and these types of documentaries that seem to most entertain a wider audience, and Breaking Glass Pictures should have tremendous success as American Harmony
prepares for its home video release on September 6, 2011 after its successful limited nationwide theatrical run.
Whether you're a fan of singing competitions or a fan of barbershop (or simply folk/Americana), American Harmony
is a wonderful film that will bring a smile to your face and have you tappin' your toes and singing along way after the film has ended.
For more information on American Harmony,
visit the film's Breaking Glass Pictures website
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic