Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Nukes (1980)

No Nukes (1980)
July 18, 1980

Published: July 18, 1980

''NO NUKES'' is a lively, likable concert movie, and it achieves its vitality without a strain. The performers, whether seen on stage or backstage or at planning meetings, mingle comfortably, and they are captured without any particular fanfare. Far from diminishing the movie's forcefulness, this low-keyed approach draws the audience close. The resulting footage is as warm as it is tuneful.

The in-concert camerawork, supervised by Haskell Wexler and Barbara Kopple, is particularly effective in fostering a feeling of coziness. The shows are photographed on such an intimate scale that the setting feels less like Madison Square Garden, where the series of No Nukes concerts were held, than the living room of somebody's home. Performers wander onto the stage without much introduction -near the beginning of the film, James Taylor simply appears before the audience, begins to sing ''Mockingbird,'' and is joined by Carly Simon from the wings. Although the list of performers, which also includes Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and the Doobie Brothers, would seem to be diverse, they trade off songs so smoothly during the concerts that they seem to have been cut from the same cloth.

The music of ''No Nukes,'' which opens today at Cinema I, is sturdier than its politics. It is made clear by the film's three credited directors, Danny Goldberg, Julian Schlossberg and Anthony Potenza, that the musicians on the bill, who worked to organize the concerts and performed free of charge, oppose the use of nuclear power and are greatly interested in this cause. (Some, like Graham Nash, who says something about having seen ''actual photographs of giant sponges'' at an underwater nuclear-waste dump near his California home, sound more enthusiastic than knowledgable.) And ''No Nukes'' includes a documentary segment, apparently shown during intermissions of the concerts, in which a man dying of leukemia describes his experience of witnessing an early atomic-bomb test. This man's testimony is the most deeply affecting evidence the movie offers.

The movie makes a simple point about the singers' allegiance to the antinuclear movement, but it never tackles the trickier matter of how they perceive their own political influence. Nor does it reveal much about the planning of the concerts, although the requisite juggling must have been fascinating. To its credit, though, the film makes none of the flashy generalizations to which rock movies are prone; if anything, it draws no conclusions at all. It simply show the concerts, glimpses the backstage activity, covers the enormous rally at Battery Park, and sits by quietly as Crosby, Stills and Nash crank out the same material they were singing at Woodstock. It seems that some things never change.

The music ranges from that of the aforementioned Crosby, Stills and Nash (who declare ''Not quite!'' about their harmonies during a rehearsal, and are understating the case considerably) to Bruce Springsteen, who steals the show. Mr. Springsteen, who makes his movie debut here, proves that in performance he is indeed a thing of beauty. His rendition of ''Thunder Road'' is wonderful, and his histrionics even more so: after leaping all over the stage during this song, he feigns a collapse, complaining ''I can't go on like this! I'm 30 years old! My heart is startin' to go!'' The members of his E Street Band affect concern, then coax him up for the count. After this, he bursts into a furious chorus of ''Quarter to Three,'' and all is presumably well. When ''No Nukes'' cuts away from Mr. Springsteen to another backstage planning session, the comedown is considerable.

Jackson Browne's version of ''Running on Empty'' is another of the show's highlights, as are the Doobie Brothers' ''What a Fool Believes'' and John Hall's antinuclear anthem, ''Power.'' (Like several of the other songs, ''Power'' sounds considerably better here than it did on the ''No Nukes'' triple album released some months ago; in fact, the material in the movie overlaps only slightly that on the records.) Carly Simon puts in a brief but sensational appearance, mostly singing with her husband, Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor's eyes twinkle with a mad gleam that is shown off to particularly merry advantage on the movie screen.

This movie has been rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''). It contains occasional harsh language.

Music of Protest
NO NUKES, documentary based on the 1979 concerts and rally protesting nuclear energy's use, directed and produced by Julian Schlossberg and Danny Goldberg; also directed by Anthony Potenza; cinematographer, Haskell Wexler; released by Warner Bros. At the Cinema I, Third Avenue and 60th Street. Running time: 103 minutes. This film is rated PG. WITH: Jackson Browne, David Crosby, The Doobie Brothers, John Hall, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Gil Scott-Heron, Carly Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen Stills, James Taylor and Jesse Colin Young.

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