Dunciad and Illeanad

The movie company hopes to promote heavily the songs written for the film by veteran and contemporary lyricists and composers, sometimes in tandem, like Gerry Goffin (King's ex-partner) and Los Lobos, and Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. The ersatz setting foils their efforts to revive distant sounds. Maybe I'll feel different if I listen to the soundtrack album, but for now I'd rather pop in a CD from The Brill Building Sound box and hear the real Carole King's charismatic piano backing the Chiffons on "One Fine Day." And I'd rather watch Steve Alpert's Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound, a 65-minute 1983 documentary based on Alan Betrock's book of the same name. (You can still find rental copies of the MGM/UA laserdisc and videotape.) With an hour less running time than Anders, and without her attempt to incorporate every rock influence from the late '50s to the early '70s, the documentary plunges you into the bustle of the Brill Building (where songwriters would start at the top floor and work their way down till they sold their latest number) with absolute authority. There's more modesty and veracity to writer/producers Bob Feldman and Richard Gottehrer's memory of overhearing a girl at a sweet shop hollering, "My boyfriend's back and you're gonna be in trouble," than there is to Denise Waverly witnessing a 12-year-old black girl confronting her 16-year-old boyfriend with her pregnancy in Grace of My Heart. And there's more point to the documentary reviving memories of performers like the Exciters and their dynamite lead singer, Brenda Reid, in a clip of them singing "Tell Him," than there is to Anders trying to merge Memory Lane and Billboard's Top 40. Grace of My Heart is finally so pointless that it's tempting to call it a vanity production, except it's impossible to tell from the outside whose vanity is being satisfied. Anders wastes a musical legacy and lays waste to her actors. Floundering through the role of a late-'50s hipster, Stoltz looks like a human impersonator. I whiled away the time thinking he was really the boy sidekick to the dog scientist in the time-travel segment of the Bullwinkle cartoon show -- that he'd donned beatnik sunglasses and a fake beard and taken a trip on the Way-Back Machine. The filmmakers should have found a way of taking that trip first; this is one of the worst period films since Al Pacino fought the British in Revolution.

American Buffalo opens Friday, Sept. 13, at the Embarcadero Center in S.F. and the Shattuck in Berkeley. Grace of My Heart opens Friday, Sept. 13, at the Kabuki.

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