Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 6:35 pm 
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A Google/YouTube discovery leads from obscurity to fame

Most of the time, when he's not looking exhausted, Arnel Pineda has a big, wide smile on his face, and stars in his eyes. And for good reason. He is living a dream you can hardly believe. He certainly hardly can. Originally a performer in an obscure cover band in Manila, the Philippines, in 2007 he was plucked off of YouTube via Google, Justin Bieber-like, to become the lead singer in the ├╝ber- famous rock group, Journey.

For Arnel, it was a long journey to Journey. And Pineda, now "like Elvis Presley for Filipinos" in any city they go to, as a liaison guy for the band says, is no Justin Bieber. No kid, he's 44. Can he even handle the life of a big band on tour, performing in arenas filled with eighteen or twenty thousand people?

This music doc suggests that he can. He's survived the school of hard knocks. Arnel became the family support -- with his singing -- after his father died at the age of 12. He used to sleep in the park with the homeless kids. He went through relationships, failed attempts to make it with his own music, punishing stretches drugs and alcohol, and fifteen years of living in Hong Kong. He had given up. When Journey leader Neal Schon contacted him, he could not believe it. But the fact is he has a fantastic voice and tremendous command of it -- and of the Journey repertoire. Addressing experienced documentarian Ramona S. Diaz in a mixture of English and his native language, Arnel turns out to be smart and articulate. His description of all the feelings and states he went through in the minutes leading up to his first performance in a concert with Journey, in Chile (before eighteen thousand) is worthy of a good novel.

As we follow him through what seasoned original band members say is the longest, most intense tour ever, Arnel shows poise and class and is unfailingly graceful and warm. Despite encountering some racism the new lead singer has livened up the band, made it more international and yes, despite his age, injected some youth (he was, after all, only six when the original members formed the group).

Like many music docs, this one basically just follows its subject around. Don't Stop Believin' (the title from one of Journey's biggest hits) is a heartwarming tale. It does not ring changes on the genre, and it goes on a little too long. After many music docs from the Beatles and the Stones through Neil Young and Metallica, Journey does not emerge as the most interesting of bands, but its fans might differ with that. A poll rates it the fifth most popular American rock group ever, The crowds -- even in the recession -- are enormous. Its members earn millions. Question is, will Arnel's private life and family survive this fame and fortune?

The film features the current Journey band members Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Deen Castronovo, Arnel Pineda, Ross Valory, shown in performance in many venues, including the Philippines. Cinematography is by Julia Dengel and Vincente Franco. In his Variety review Rob Nelson finds some fault with sound recording and editing. Indeed some passages do run on, but the full exposure of Pineda's autobiographical rambles is one of the film's main interests, a fruit of his natural rapport with fellow Filipino Ramona Diaz.

Don't Stop Believin' was shown at Tribeca Apirl 19 (the premiere), and April 21, 27 and 28, 2012. It was the closing night film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, showing Thu, May 3, 2012 at 7 pm at the Castro Theater. It has also had screenings with appearances by the director and subjects in the months in various US venues since, but according to a Wikipedia article, a theatrical release remains uncertain and the film may go straight to DVD, a pity in view of its arena theater focus.

P.s.: Don't Stop Believin' was released March 7, 2013 at three New York City area theaters.

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