Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing
The "unreal" techniques in 7 Year ZigZag include cover-to-cover rhymed narration, fake home video clips, ingenious black-and-white three-quarters animated "living" storyboards and slickly choreographed club routines, all cleverly arranged and treated as to seem "real." Many a viewer may question if he or she has sleepily missed a phenomenon of the 1980s and '90s. The ad begins, "A true story about dreams . . .," etc., but the truth here is of the heart and human condition, smoke and mirrors rendering reality in universal emotions but imagined scenarios and events.
Looking like a younger-than-today Piano Man, actor/scriptwriter/co-director/co-songwriter Richard Green is Storyteller Nick, who will either speak directly to the camera or else voice-over the patently non-dramatic sequences. His nonstop hipster rhymed-couplet spiel is witty and as rapid as a carny barker's, so fast that some of the patter is missed and leads to renewed wonder at the unschooled, unfootnoted aural quickness of Elizabethan theatergoers.
With time out to help a beloved father in unfamiliar corporate waters, the ex-hitchhiker hippie Storyteller is focused on making The Doomsayer, a movie he conceives about a Jeremiah who gives the world one more week. Driving cross-country -- the film involves a bit of rootless moving about -- he hits on a plan to raise production money with a surefire commercial film to be titled Next Step.
Storylines overlap and run together, purposely making film "fact" often inseparable from film "fiction," since a good part of what follows is concerned with Next Step as film-within-the-film. To 'thirties-style cartoon backgrounds combined with actors' faces (sequences directed by Green and Dermott Downs), the latter is the tale of a battling young couple who try to save their friend's failing restaurant business by introducing jazz swing music and, after the cigarette rolling paper, billing it as the ZigZag Club, "the world's first floating nightclub."
Animation turns to real sequences, as the Narrator himself stagetalks and croons fourteen original songs, all but one composed by Green alone or with Dwight Dinan, in an intimate club style or else fronting an uptempo group in Europe, where success promises but does not materialize. Directed by Jonathan Schmock, many of the nightclub numbers are danced by a few adept 'thirties- and 'forties-costumed dancers out of Cotton Club or Paramount Theater shows.
Interspersed, still overvoiced in couplets (and co-directed with Donna Du Bain), are misadventures in money-raising -- one potential Boston backer (Joe Torcello), for instance, dies suddenly on the eve of flying out to sign a contract -- and videorecorded memories of hippie days with the Dream Girl (Robin Banks) Who Got Away. The choice was there, the young narrator was not ready for upper-case commitment, personal achievement beckoned, and so they parted. A reunion years later rekindles his flame but not hers, while yet a second meeting shows how hopeless this love is.
Reportedly inspired by his own mother's enthusiasm for Richard Green and the Next Step Band's performances over seven years at the Roxy's ZigZag Club, the author and wife Gloria have cast friends and family, only some of whom are professionals. There are plot excrescences -- adored dog Hilly, for one, or the Brooklyn Brunette (Aurora Cravens) -- and Green's more spoken than sung voice is pleasant enough but, while adequate for small spaces, has little range.
For those who might like something different, who don't mind our host's showbiz cockiness and who do have a toe-tapping fondness for an era so opposed to today's blatantly sexually hyped industry, the film will be rewarding. Along the way, it deals with readiness, refusal and renunciation, and with what success really consists of, although these latter elements are finally incidental, tacked on in fleet indications of fulfilled love, marriage and a son. 7 Year ZigZag is experimental, more celebration than story, and taken as such -- fun.
(Released by Next Step Studios; not rated by MPAA.)