It’s been said that a single person can make a difference if they have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. Of course, it’s even more effective if that individual just happens to be a world-famous musician. “Stand and Be Counted,” a two-part documentary about singers and politics, covers 40 years of musical activism and its appeal and endurance throughout the generations.
Inspired by the book by David Crosby and David Bender, the docu is a passion-filled but sloppily organized tribute to performers who lend their names in the hopes of helping others.
Editors Tim Tobin and Conrad Stanley appear overwhelmed by the wealth of material available, and many of the interviews are repetitious while others are plain mysterious. If this is a docu about musician activists, why do we need to hear from Robin Williams?
Also perplexing is the fact that the major musical events are presented in no discernible pattern. Director Gary McGroarty jumps from Live Aid back to No Nukes to the Walden Woods Project without any regard for time or continuity. Although fairly traditional, a linear history would have worked fine here, considering the number of entertaining clips and interviews that would keep things lively.
As a result, some of the best moments, such Pete Seeger’s recollections of Woody Guthrie, and the story of Victor Java, get buried in the mess.
McGroarty does manage to eloquently capture some of the more poignant moments. Among them are when an emotional Bob Geldof recalls the documentary that inspired him to start Band Aid and the story of the Sarajevo symphony cellist who played amid the gunfire for 23 days straight in honor of slain friends.
Still, docu could have included more information as to how effective these events really are. We do learn that Band Aid raised approximately $10 million, but it would have been nice to see the concrete results of other efforts.
Without that, the docu lacks closure and focuses too heavily on celebrities espousing their political views. While the causes presented here are plenty worthy, the endless pontificating and posturing comes off as self-congratulatory.
It’s one thing to hear Geldof or Harry Belafonte talking about the personal experiences that moved them into action. It’s quite another to see Jewel waxing sanctimoniously on topics.
Of all the performers interviewed, however, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe seems to have the best grasp on his role as a musician activist, calling himself a “celebrity carrot.”
Tape reviewed was rough and lacked final technical credits.