This review was provided by Isabella Soares from our Open Call for Film Critics & Writers! Buy your Festival pass or individual tickets to watch both these films on GFF On Demand. Please check out Isabella’s other review of White Lie here!
Review by Isabella Soares
Throughout the years, it is safe to say that we are familiarized with the context of rise to fame. You start at a church choir or playing tunes at bars and wedding ceremonies, and eventually, someone sees your potential in the industry and hands over a golden ticket to stardom. However, what about the cover bands, impersonators and tribute artists? What is their drive to incorporate an existing or deceased musician as a living and career goal? The answer: it is all about keeping the legacy alive.
In this documentary that encompasses the challenges and rewards to maintain the buzz over Golden Age legends of the rockabilly scene, we come to understand the shocking news that impersonators sell out shows (even if they are in smaller-sized venues) and live on the road just as much as any other singer songwriter in the making, according to Winnipeg-born tour manager Marty Kramer.
In the core of Almost Almost Famous, lies the greatest tribute artist compilation by the name of “Class of ’59”. Although the path that led to this career was paved differently for each one of the members, they all share the embedded admiration and respect for their personas. For instance, Lance Lapinski, remembers belting out Elvis tunes he used to hear from his father’s records, to the point he decided to drop out of school to make it big in Vegas. Once he noticed the innumerable amount of Elvis tribute artists, he decided to try out as another icon who became dim in the midst of current music: Jeremy Lee Lewis. The egocentric attitude and master level piano playing made his attempt an immediate success, but years later the act evidently becomes a burden when juggling Lewis on one end, and his authorial work on the other.
While Lapinski knew exactly what he wanted to do early on, the same cannot be said about Bobby Brooks, a Jackie Wilson impersonator. As his career in the navy after 8 years went downhill alongside his marriage, he would sing karaoke and mesmerize those around him with his natural performance skills. So much so that in one of these karaoke bars, Peter Hernandez Sr. (father of funk pop superstar Bruno Mars) found him and convinced him that he had the potential to become a flawless Jack Wilson tribute artist. After all, the mannerisms, voice, and resemblance to “Mr. Excitement” himself were undeniable. The decision to embrace Wilson leads to a powerful yet outshined revelation throughout the course of the documentary, due to the lack of depth towards this attention gripping moment.
Besides the hairspray, makeup, and glitter-filled outfits, the life on the road often times is marked with trials. The tight schedule, the struggle of playing the same tunes on repeat for years, fear of being replaced by young upcoming performers, and the fine line between playing a role and being that role, are all shown throughout the film. Ted Torres (a.k.a Elvis) opens up about always reminding himself to on stage “do the embodiment that Elvis was to people”, and immediately stripping down from the wig and glamourous high-collared shirts when off-stage, in order to separate his normal life from the performance act.
Through documenting the highs and lows of the impersonator showbiz in an ordinary but purposeful manner, Barry Lank’s “Almost Almost Famous” is surely going to open your mind to this often times undermined form of artistry; as well as lead you to a reflection on the meaning of maintaining reminiscence over the ground-breaking artists from the 50s alive in our minds, memories and hearts.