DVD Review - This Time: A Music Documentary (2011)

DVD Review

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Dreams, doubts, joy, disappointments, desperation and, ultimately, faith. These are the emotions of life and are at the center of the music documentary, This Time, from director Victor Mignatti.  The movie tells the story of the musical dreams of three acts: legendary vocal group The Sweet Inspirations, soul diva Pat Hodges and New York cabaret singer Bobby Belfry. 

Dreams, doubts, joy, disappointments, desperation and, ultimately, faith. These are the emotions of life and are at the center of the music documentary, This Time, from director Victor Mignatti.  The movie tells the story of the musical dreams of three acts: legendary vocal group The Sweet Inspirations, soul diva Pat Hodges and New York cabaret singer Bobby Belfry. 

The protagonists in This Time have lived very different lives: The Sweet Inspirations are among the most famous background vocal groups of all time, having worked with literally dozens of acts including Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, as well has having a successful career in their own right.  Pat Hodges was part of the modestly successful 70s vocal trio Hodges, James & Smith, before walking away from performing and into years of poverty and homelessness. Belfry had a brief career in a hair rock band before settling into 15 years as a singing bartender with occasional gigs at local cabarets. But despite their varied pasts, all are captured in This Time at a surprisingly similar spot in their lives: feeling stuck in their musical careers and working to catch that "break" that will move them (or take them back) to a higher level. Hodges must overcome both her health and her apparent self-sabotaging tendencies to hit the heights that extremely likeable producer/songwriter Peitor Angell is trying to help her achieve.  Belfry must fight the self-doubt that inevitably comes from a life and career that didn't quite turn out as planned.  And, years after their time at the top, The Sweet Inspirations must battle age and intra-group conflicts to escape from Elvis tribute show hell and toward one more shot at stardom.

The characters in This Time are both complicated and compelling, and Mignatti smartly avoids overregulating a story that has its own natural flow and tension. With no narration -- the characters' interactions provide the script for the documentary -- he captures the artists' internal struggles with the quest for fame and the difficult road to get there.  And in the process, those characters make us enter deeply into those struggles. When the immensely talented Hodges indifferently walks away to virtual homelessness after landing two Billboard hits, you want to shake her for letting go of what appears to be her last chance for happiness. When Belfry continues to plug away night after night through seemingly endless career quicksand, you root for him to just catch that one break. And you get caught up in the dignity of The Sweet Inspirations and the earnest Angell as they try to defy odds and create the group's first hit record in over three decades.

Perhaps that is what is most notable about This Time.  A story of struggling musicians is certainly not a new one, but Mignatti captures the humanity of the artists, their self-doubts and, in the end, their deep faith, in a pure and compelling way.  The story is real life, so the ending is what it is -- which is to say there is no gift wrapping; life simply continues on after the tape stops rolling.  But for nearly two hours This Time provides an honest look at both the shifting sands of the modern music industry and the lives of a handful of basically good people who are struggling to find a place in that world.  For fans of quality music and honest life stories, This Time is a documentary worth its weight in gold records.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

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