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Smile ‘Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story

Purgatorial Me Decade perkiness is recaptured in "Smile 'Til It Hurts," which chronicles the bizarre history of Up With People. That peppy counterpoint-to-the-counterculture youth choir sprang from a controversial apocalyptic Christian sect, was embraced by the Nixon administration and met with myriad heads of state during its globe-trotting tours.

With:
With: David Allen, Elizabeth Belk, J. Blanton Belk, Linda Blackmore Cates, Paul Colwell, Steve Colwell, Ralph Colwell, Margaret Inge, Frank Fields, Stewart Lancaster, John Parker, Eric Roos, Don Saul, John Sayre, Patricia Sayre, William Storey, Mark Crispin Miller, P.J. O'Rourke, Jim Steeg, Peter Yarrow.

Purgatorial Me Decade perkiness is recaptured in “Smile ‘Til It Hurts,” which chronicles the bizarre history of Up With People. That peppy counterpoint-to-the-counterculture youth choir sprang from a controversial apocalyptic Christian sect, was embraced by the Nixon administration and met with myriad heads of state during its globe-trotting tours. The archival clips now look absurdly dated, but one might argue certain American mass entertainments since (“American Idol” et al.) have grown even more tranquilizing. Flummoxing flashback has considerable camp appeal, though the subject’s latter-day obscurity might limit exposure.

Up With People offered what wag P.J. O’Rourke calls a “radical moderate” response to rebellious ’60s/’70s hippiedom. Its small army of clean-cut, identically clad, multiracial youth sang inspirationally vague original songs like “I Get a Kick Out of Life,” “Which Way America” and “You Can’t Live Crooked and Think Straight,” delivering a message one might summarize as, “Being nice makes the world nicer!” Somehow this amped-up innocuousness got them to several Super Bowl halftimes before a slow ’80s fadeout. Ex-members recall their stints with varying degrees of nostalgia and embarrassment. Assembly is lively and polished.

Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story

Production: A Storey Vision production. Produced by Lee Storey, Bari Pearlman. Executive producers, Jack Lehner, Don Kile, Ross Wilson. Directed by Lee Storey.

Crew: Camera (color, mini-DV-to-DigiBeta), Ezra Bookstein; editor, Penelope Falk; music, Jim Kimbrough. Reviewed on DVD at Slamdance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2009. Running time: 81 MIN.

With: With: David Allen, Elizabeth Belk, J. Blanton Belk, Linda Blackmore Cates, Paul Colwell, Steve Colwell, Ralph Colwell, Margaret Inge, Frank Fields, Stewart Lancaster, John Parker, Eric Roos, Don Saul, John Sayre, Patricia Sayre, William Storey, Mark Crispin Miller, P.J. O'Rourke, Jim Steeg, Peter Yarrow.

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