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June 14, 2008

Rock Baby, Rock It

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Murray Douglas Sporup - 1957
Arcanum Region 1 DVD

There's a book of oversized postcards I bought titled Lost, Lonely and Vicious. The book is a collection of posters from exploitation films, primarily from the Fifties. One the back of each postcard is a snarky blurb about the film, sometimes with actual information. One of the posters is from Rock Baby, Rock It. It's hard to forget the image of a guy playing piano with a rooster on top. As it turned out, thanks to the DVD release of this film and a little internet research, one can appreciate Rock Baby, Rock it for documenting Rosco Gordon when he performed with his rooster, Butch.

As for the film itself, there isn't a lot to say. The plot actually starts off the same way as The Young Ones. The kids are about to be evicted from their rock and roll club by some guy with a lot more money. The solution: put on a show with the biggest stars available. The stars in this case are names that would mean something to only the most devoted rock music scholar. These were regional acts that were on labels like Sun and King, back before the suits in New York fully realized there was a lot of money to be made on rock and roll. Rockabilly is well represented by Johnny Carroll, while the doo-wop highlight is The Five Stars performing "Hey, Juanita". In other words, the off stage stuff is filler between the music, which is the reason to see Rock Baby, Rock it.

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While watching the film, it occurred to me that if there is ever a definitive history about independent films, scholarship should be devoted to the Fifties Drive-in circuit. Rock Baby, Rock it was financed by a Texan with money and music connections based in Dallas. According to Kay Wheeler, the Dallas teen who starred in the film, J. G. Tiger was a pseudonym for the producer who may well have acted as his own distributor. Just as there was a do-it-yourself ethos for early rock music, there's been a parallel movement, albeit much smaller, of filmmakers who made films that were primarily shown at drive-ins or in the second or third run theaters of larger cities. The films were made to make money for a less discerning audience of teenagers and young adults. I suspect that there may have been a few other films like Rock Baby, Rock It that were made on shoe string budgets with local talent, and distribution by Mom and Pop operations.

In the case of Rock Baby, Rock It, most of the film's significance is in the documentation of several musical acts of the time. While it may seem unremarkable now, it is also worth noting that this is a film about Southern white teenagers who dig music by black musicians. Yes, the black faces are restricted to the stage, but in its modest way, the film is a reminder of when early rock cut across racial lines.

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Posted by peter at June 14, 2008 12:14 AM