American Hot Wax (1978)

PG   |    |  Drama, History, Music

American Hot Wax (1978) Poster

The story of Alan Freed, the pioneering disc jockey who was instrumental in introducing and popularizing rock 'n' roll in the 1950s.


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10 November 2001 | sed-1
Earnest Hollywood Effort
The anachronisms fly in this Hollywood rendition of the beginnings of Rock and Roll (a genre best defined as the introduction of black Rhythym and Blues music "crossing over" to white teenage audiences in the early and mid-fifties).

The subsequent discovery of the economic power of these teenagers buying the records would change popular music forever.

The movie is redeemed by some energetic youthful performers and the exuberance that was such a feature of the time. But nowhere near enough credit,however,is paid to the original black harmony groups who were overwhelmingly responsible for this explosion of a new popular culture without precedent in US history. They are overshadowed by white single performers who Freed never played.

The movie stars Tim McIntyre, son of renowned character actor John McIntyre, delivering a sensitive portrayal of Freed. A pretty Fran Drescher is here before she assumed her affected froggy-voiced caricature so familiar today. Jay Leno is here also, sincere as always, and quite good as Freed's chauffeur.

Framed around the payola scandals, an ill-disguised attempt to destroy the music and its too-black associations, Freed was convicted of what was hardly a major offense (a common practice in the industry at the time), lost his job, and died a few years later. It's hard to convey today how virulent was the opposition to this music by the moral majority of that time.

One has only to listen to the Chesterfield's ersatz performances in the movie imitating Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, which are workmanlike, and then listen to the original. It is probably the best way to understand how this movie doesn't quite measure up to the reality it is trying to describe (what Hollywood movie ever does?). The real Frankie Lymon had a voice that was simply unbelievable, and a stage presence that awed Bing Crosby (!). Frank Sinatra, uncharacteristically, said he had never seen nor heard anything like him. (Crosby and Sinatra had been invited to the Apollo to see Lymon). Frankie Lymon died tragically about a decade later - long forgotten, and a microcosm, perhaps, of the black groups who started the whole thing.

Worth watching, but for a more truthful approach to the music itself, and much grittier, catch the earlier rock movies from 1956 with the real Alan Freed and the great original artists. Not much plot, but - oh! what performances!

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