It's tough to age gracefully. I look at myself in the mirror every morning, at all the ugly scars, insane amount of hair (I'm like a freaking wolf), and my protruding belly, and I can't help but recall when things were sleeker, cleaner, and significantly less hairy. Mind you, that puts me at age seven, but you get what I mean.
Mind you, I've been on this particular lark before back when I looked at Robin and Marian, but, while the film I watched today isn't specifically about yearning for the old days, it really is about yearning for the old days.
Made in 1973 and combining footage and photographs of the 1950's with then-contemporary performances by the likes of Chuck Berry, Chubby Checkers, and Little Richard, Let the Good Times Roll is a meticulously crafted set of songs meant to evoke a rush to feeling of a simpler time. Sure, bad things could happen, but the joyous, simplistic soul of early rock n' roll is still kicking.
I'm not immune to nostalgia (heck, even this website has no such immunity), but, as presented in Let the Good Times Roll, it's an odd beast. More than four decades on from this film's release, many of the icons enshrined here have been done from the perspective of their earlier career. I remember Chuck Berry, but I know the Chuck Berry of 1955, not the Berry of 1973. Hell, I didn't know Chuck Berry was alive in 1973.
And that really kind of brings up the weirdness of the film. It's a time capsule of another time from another time. Watching the seventies fondly recall the fifties kind of makes me feel dirty, in kind of the same way I looked at All This and World War II and saw the horrors of Nazism conveyed by a generic cover of "Hey Jude."
Take this for an example: one clip is a brief view of a young Vice President Richard Nixon explaining his political views, which seem self serving and aggrandizing. Looking back now when I watch the film, all I see is the crook, liar, and thief who jumped out of the White House before he got pushed out. But when this film was made, Nixon was still the president. And popular, kind of, since 1973 was the year Watergate unfolded.
Okay, I'm not freaking out or anything, it's just mindboggling to me on some level. And that really shouldn't detract from my score of the film, since it's a fascinating relic of when it was made, like "Happy Days."
But the truth is that nostalgia isn't always pretty. The stars give it their all-- I'd be amazed if Little Richard has ever done a bad show, hopped up on goofballs or not-- but the stars are old, tired, and chubby (except, strangely, Chubby Checkers). The precious little behind the scenes material is infinitely more interesting than the main event, as some stars briefly touch on the prejudices they endured or are stopped by adoring fans. One concert promoter warns Little Richard not to bring fans on stage-- and he does it anyway.
These guys are professionals, but this film isn't about them. It's about the old white guys in the audience who can't stand the 1970's, who wish they were young again.
Let the Good Times Role is a sad kind of movie with a big smile on its face. It's trotting out great music, great stars, and wanting the audience to stand up and dance along. And if you are so inclined, you may just get a kick out of it. I just can't help but feel that, even then, for a lot of these people, the good times were long gone.