Film Screening: Another Night at the Agora

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Last Night: Another Night at the Agora at Sunrise Cinemas Mizner Park

The Palm Beach International Film Festival wrapped up last night with the second showing of A Rock and a Hard Place: Another Night at the Agora, a concert film/documentary that sheds light on the once-vibrant but now forgotten rock scene in South Florida and pays tribute to the godmother of that scene, Sheila Witkin. In case you missed it, here’s a little back story on the film from this week’s Night & Day section.

The film jumps into the scene’s history right away, quickly establishing that South Florida in the late ΄70s was a hostile place for bands playing original material. Cover bands ruled the day, and club owners weren’t willing to take chances on kids playing angst-ey rock tunes. But then Witkin and another promoter, Bobby Mascara (sp), started pumping these bands with original tunes. The Z-Cars (pronounced Zed Cars) led the charge as sort of a costumed, Bowie-meets-Zappa bunch of hooligans.

Soon other bands were breaking into the scene too, and drawing huge crowds of rabid followers. Local music was looking up.
At that point the film starts jumping back and forth between grainy, taped concerts, interviews twith the band members, and HD footage from the last January’s Memorial concert, pausing to introduce each band and illustrate their importance in modern rock. Critical Mass were the power-chord playing grandfathers to Green Day. The Cichlids had this sneering, monotone X vibe and sang songs about how much they hated tourists (how little has changed over the past 25 years…). The Kids, Slyder, and Tight Squeeze each had a unique take on hard rock.Charlie Pickett, who’s still hustlin’ his tunes around town, did honkey tonk rock with a shimmy and a shake. He was, and is, something of a character – he was at the screening and afterwards stood up and cheered, “Let’s hear it for Diane (Jacques)!”
Clearly, these guys and gals had talent. But the film poses early on that real life stories don’t always have happy endings. Despite some scrapes with success, none of the bands really took off. The scene died out slow as clubs shut down, record contracts turned foul, and music just moved on. Agora spends a considerable amount of time mulling over these misfortunes, and it does a good job making you feel as betrayed by the music industry as the bands obviously were. But this kind of thing happens all the time. Despite what we’re told, talent and hard work doesn’t equal success, and there are countless bands out there that will never make it big, whether they deserve it or not.
In the end, Agora works best as an homage to the people that made this improbable scene work. Even if no one ouside this little berg takes notice of what happened way back when, at least their legacy won’t be forgotten again. What’s most affecting are the stricking parallels between local music then and now -- there are a few people that really strive to create something special, and whether their efforts pan out or not they deserve to be celebrated. Anyone who plays local music or calls themselves a fan should see this film.
And if you missed the first reunion show, take heart: Another concert is being planned for mid-summer. Keep your eye on Crossfade for news on that, and future screenings of the film.
--John Linn


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