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Off the Charts: The Song Poems Story [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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Region 1 encoding. (requires a North American or multi-region DVD player and NTSC compatible TV. More about DVD formats)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 22 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Captivating 15 Jan 2004
By J. Boley - Published on
Format: DVD
It was about midnight in a hotel room on a business trip that I was flipping channels and came across this documentary and was immediately sucked in. It's just a fascinating story about an off-beat topic that most people have never heard about. I was so fascinated by it that I researched the PBS site until I found the producers name and contacted him to see when it would be on DVD (I never do that!).
Well, that was about a year ago, here it is, and I can't wait to see it with all the extras. If you are a fan of oddball documentaries in the vein of 'American Movie', 'The Checker King', or 'Cane Toads', then this one is for you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Bad music makes a good show... 25 Jan 2004
By rar - Published on
Format: DVD
I, too, saw this doc last year and absolutely loved it.
I've always had a love for bad, cheesy music. I can't explain why but things like The Shaggs and Portsmouth Sinfonia
and Mrs. Miller have always made the laugh. If you're the type that's bought a bargain basement album because it looks SO BAD, then you'll love this documentary. What's touching is how earnest and endearing a couple of these
song-writers were. Others were just plain strange. Such is the world of song-poems. The companies cranking this stuff out (actually decent musicians) made sure never to change the lyrics, no matter how bad or how poorly they worked.
So of course I loved this doc and it made me want to hear these songs for myself. For anyone that's curious, check out the website (American Song Poem Music Assoc.). It has a treasure-trove of song-poems available for download. There's also a couple of cds you can buy through Amazon that are great. Co-workers and I have laughed ourselves silly over some of this stuff. (sample song-poem lyrics: Disco, disco, disco ... I am going to Mt. Cisco. I am going to buy Crisco to bake a cake so I can disco, disco, disco. Also loved: Norman Casserly, the first male midwife) Highly recommended if you like unintentionally funny things...
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"Thank Jehovah for Kung Fu Bicycles and Priscilla Presley" 29 Mar 2005
By cookieman108 - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Have you ever heard of Caglar Juan Singletary (the man behind the song `Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers')? No? How about Nilson V. Ortiz (The Thing), or Gary Forney (Chicken Insurrection)? Probably not...should you know these individuals? Not unless you're why am I bringing them up? Well, I think many of us have seen the tiny, little ads in magazines (usually in the back), tabloids, or comic books that entice readers to send in poems and have them translated into songs, with the inference of possibly entering the music business and/or reaping the accompanying rewards (be they in the form of recognition or financial, or both) only to dismiss them as scams and wonder just what kind of people fall for such foolishness? Well, the three I mentioned earlier are individuals who responded to such ads at one point or another, and have all had their words transmogrified into songs, for better or for worse...

In the documentary Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story (2003), Jamie Meltzer allows us a glimpse behind those ads I mentioned previously, detailing not only those with aspirations of having their words transformed into songs, but also those craftsmen who take on the responsibility turning someone's dreams into a vinyl reality, for a price, of the film begins, Meltzer examines this rather extensive subculture, focusing on a relatively small, eclectic group within the whole, specifically the more inspired (or demented, depending on your view) elements. How it actually works is you would send in your poem to the advertisement listed, and they would respond telling you they will take your poem and turn it into a professionally produced song, complete with singer and musical accompaniment. All you have to do is send in some cash...and it's usually not a meager sum, but then what price can you put on stardom? Once the cash was received, the work would begin, and a record produced, with a copy of going back to you.

While watching this documentary, I think what surprised me most was seeing the level of professionalism and seriousness displayed by the individuals or companies who turn these submissions into music. They weren't especially high tech, and usually worked alone out of their homes, but they didn't appear to be in the business of scamming or fleecing these people of their money (although I'm sure some are). They truly seemed interested in providing what they advertised, despite the quality of the material they often received, and believe me, there is a level of awfulness that goes beyond comprehension (this seems sort of an absurd aspect, to have accomplished musicians work with generally such amateurish material). There was a very creepy element about some of these individuals who submitted their works, but you won't be able to deny the sincerity in their desires. They didn't appear to have delusions about stardom, but only wished to hear their words in a format that could be enjoyed by others...and as creepy as some of these people may seem, they really can't compare to those who actually collect this material, those who scrounge, scavenge, and pontificate the virtues of said music...these guys probably scared me the most (probably because I could identify with them more than anyone else in the film). I think the part I liked the most was when we saw, in a split screen, the artist performing a song, and the person who wrote the poem hearing the song for the first time. It's funny how these original writers react to hearing the songs created from their words, especially when they get something not quite what they expected. The film closes with one individual, now that he has his words translated into to music, deciding it's time to take his music to the people, and he and his son go on tour (all of one gotta start somewhere).

The actual documentary lasts about an hour, and the rest is made up of a plethora of special features including a director and producer commentary track, Sunburst Studio sessions (featuring the recording of six songs), deleted scenes (7 in all), a feature called the Iowa Mountain Tour, Live!, `Off the Charts' premiere party, Columbine Records Presents `America Sing!'(a variety TV show featuring a number of songs), and a song-poem advertisement gallery with commentary. If you enjoy this, I would also recommend the book/CD combo Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music (I think someone already mentioned it), and another film titled Driver 23/Atlas Moth (2002), which doesn't so much pertain to `outsider' music, but is a great film about one mans dedication to his craft and the lengths to which he goes through in following his dreams.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Welcome to The Chicken Insurrection ... 11 Aug 2008
By Dr. E - Published on
Format: DVD
I watched Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story with a large group of people. Around the film's mid-point, I felt emotionally conflicted. I searched the room for my cue. One man was folded-in on himself, looking wretchedly depressed. One was nonchalantly eating pistachios. Still, my own friend was laughing hysterically. What to think?

Personally, I find this documentary bizarrely poignant. Voiceless members of society find a means of expressing themselves (but they have to pay someone to speak for them ... ergggg). See the problem? For instance: while everyone will find Caglar Juan Singletary fascinating, some will view him him pity ... others might find him an uninhibited genius (as Priscilla Presley may). His fascination will "historical honeys" and firearms clearly concerns his grandmother (oooOooOoo, just wait for it). And, yet, I desperately want to find this man and make him my best friend ... very Wesley Willis (R.I.P., my man).

The construction of this documentary is rather brilliant. It moves from a playful surface read (looking at the stacks of submissions received from mental-hospital patients) to a more personal, deeper exploration. In one instance, the son of a song-poem recorder reveals the only way he knows his (now deceased) father is through his recordings. It is strangely touching.

While this film certainly amuses its audience (between the impassioned performance of "Ginseng Digger," Ramsey Kearney's Black-Forest name-plate, and the menagerie of exotic animals, this film never fails to elicit a laugh!!!!), it also has a tender side. Even as Gary Forney (Iowa Mountain Tour) mutters something about a "Chicken Insurrection," my hearts breaks for him. His quiet vulnerability leaves the viewer stunned. There is an endearing quality ... something about chasing dreams even if your dreams include rebel chickens (no matter).

You need not have any interest in the recording industry to enjoy this work ... this piece is much more about fringe-society and how "vanity records" may actually have a place in our world. And, I must admit ... I have LITERALLY found myself singing "Jimmy Carter Says Yes!" Once you hear it, you can't "unhear" it, my friend.

Brilliant stuff. Watch it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An Incredible Film!!!! 20 Jan 2004
By N. Poulos - Published on
Format: DVD
I was surprised to see how completely captivating and intriguing this film was. If art imitates life then this film is a perfect example. In this documentary, director Jamie Meltzer explores the bizarre and fascinating world of "Song Poems". In this obscure sub-culture, ordinary people with stars in their eyes are seduced by ads in the back of magazines promising fame and fortune for original songs. For a price anyone can submit his or her personal, heartfelt, and often times very bizarre lyrics/poems to be recorded as songs. Yes, the subject matter is strange but I found myself touched by these people lives and completely fascinated by the inner workings of the business end of the song-poem world. What I loved about it was that it was so completely human. There should be more films made like this one. You don't need huge special effects or some grand subject matter, all you need is a good story.
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