America’s Heart and Soul reviewed by Mike Smith (with Greg Wright)
Cynics, stand aside. This is an exhilarating movie. For those willing to open their eyes to beauty and grace, Louis Schwartzberg’s love letter to nature and freedom gives us new respect for what makes this country great: everyday folks. And if you’re one of those people for whom life has become a drudgery of mandates and obligations, I think you will be encouraged and lifted up.
This is a documentary about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Those documented in this film are truly living. They march to the proverbial different drummer. They are the thrill seekers that live among us, people who listen to a different economy and a different system of reward. The carrot on their stick is not a paycheck but the doing of their “thing” itself, from making ice cream, to stunt-flying airplanes, milking cows seven days a week (is it all workdays, or is it all weekends?), to metal sculpting, to [insert your own special ability or interest here].
America’s Heart and Soul makes us realize there is more to life than mere existence. Harold Whitman’s quote is especially a propos of the lives of those chronicled in this film. Films so often portray the unrealistic “heroes” of our age. We want to do the different things, the special things that are depicted in so many movies. The problem is that the heroes depicted really are larger than life. We don’t buy the story because we know “this is only a movie.”
But this time, I saw myself in some of these people. I cared about them. I related to them. They have a wonder in their eyes, a fire in their bellies. They exude love and passion in their purest forms. They say words like “passion to create,” “heart,” “love,” “desire,” “joy,” “surprise,” and “live my dreams.”
This world could certainly use a few more people that have come alive as these folks have. And you may walk away from this movie thinking thoughts like: “Maybe I’ll try making furniture again.” “I think I will go back to school and learn to teach, at 45!” “Honey, where is my old trombone?” (Begin reverie now…)
Our culture admires self-denial. It seems noble and generous. But do we really seek self-denial for ourselves? Don’t some of us just resent others because we are unfulfilled in our pursuits and careers? This movie shows us that self-centered fulfillment is at least preferable to resentment, jealousy and self-loathing. I was struck by how often those that were spotlighted here brought so much pleasure to others simply because they were bringing pleasure to themselves. Joy can be contagious; so why not start with yourself?
Moreover, many of those featured in the film obviously feel grateful for this joy. There is an almost awkward quality to the way some describe their gratitude. Some havepersonal heroes who inspired them. Others have devastating discouragement in their past. None spout popular self-help themes or empty religious platitudes. They are surprisingly not self absorbed. Instead there is an “other” focus about their passions. Their fulfillment is much more than they could have envisioned for themselves. In short their stories are a cross-sampling of a meaningful life. Who do you thank for that?
We can start with thanking the director of America’s Heart and Soul, film archivist Louie Schwartzberg. Many documentaries tend to be manipulative or at least contrived. This film, although in the documentary style, does not appear insincere at all. It’s almost like a camera was set on a tripod and America passed by in all its glory. America is refreshing as it is presented in the purest form of diversity: people doing what they love, with their own personality and passion. The obvious reward is in the doing of it. Without the interference or “help” of either government or business, these Americans go about their lives fulfilling their deepest callings. Their passion and love of life are indeed inspiring.
Okay, maybe you will be manipulated. The old heart strings may vibrate. Be happy that you have the strings to manipulate. You’ll never get a warm feeling from anything if you don’t have the strings to play inside anyway.
And by the way… this is one film you can definitely share with your family. Bring your troubled teen looking for purpose. Heck, bring yourself. Talk about this movie with each other. Feel good about what you’ve witnessed. Because when the movie’s done, you may want to head in a different direction.
Then, go ahead. Dance to that different drummer!
America’s Heart and Soul is available in HD on Amazon Instant Video . It’s a beautiful film. Turn off the volume if you want, and just watch the images.
Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!