July 21, 2008

The Wisconsin State Journal Tom Alesia Column

By Tom Alesia, The Wisconsin State Journal

Jul. 19--I didn't see all 200-plus offerings at the Wisconsin Film Fest in early April, but I doubt there was a better film than the documentary "Song Sung Blue," about Milwaukee's Lightning and Thunder singing duo. Surprisingly emotional, funny and honest, it's better than another Milwaukee-based film, "American Movie," an acclaimed 1999 documentary that made a brief star of its subject, struggling filmmaker Mark Borchardt.

So what happened to "Song Sung Blue" -- featuring Mike Sardina, who performed a Neil Diamond tribute backed by his wife, Claire, who did Patsy Cline numbers?

Soon after its two screenings in Madison, "Song Sung Blue" won Best Documentary Feature awards at film festivals in Philadelphia and Boston.

After debuting at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last January, it has been to 13 other fests. (At Slamdance, "Song Sung Blue" won a rare double honor: audience and jury awards for Best Documentary.)

Former Milwaukeean Greg Kohs, who now lives in the Philadelphia area, directed "Song Sung Blue." He spent time over eight years with Lightning and Thunder, who performed many Madison club gigs. This is Kohs' first full-length film, but he has numerous national TV commercial credits and spent several years in the 1990s with NFL Films.

Contacted by e-mail, Kohs remained upbeat about having "Song Sung Blue" purchased by a movie studio and released in theaters. Kohs wrote, "We still have a full slate of festival screenings scheduled and I hope to have wide distribution opportunities security in the coming months."

Movie critics were kind to "Song Sung Blue" when it played at a Washington, D.C., area film festival in late June. The Washington Post called it "a thoroughly compelling and incredibly touching documentary that demonstrates how living one's dreams is equal parts delusion and inspiration." The alt-weekly Washington City Paper noted, "Kohs achieves the nearly impossible: Eventually, you stop snickering at the Sardinas' trailer-trashness and emphasize with the humanity beneath their glitter."

"Song Sung Blue" will be screened at the prestigious International Film Festival in Melbourne, Australia later this month. In late summer and fall, it has been picked for several fests, including ones in New York, Atlanta and Memphis.

Though not in the documentary, Neil Diamond has seen the film and given his support.

"I'm honored to have my songs," Diamond said, "part of this love story."

NUTTY NUGE: What's new, Ted Nugent? An e-mail from his publicist explained the details to promote Nugent's Aug. 15 show at the Dodge County Fair in Beaver Dam.

Nugent, who turns 60 in December, released his 35th album called "Love Grenade" last fall. He recently released a new DVD, "Sweden Rocks," and sang "I Am the NRA" at NRA National Convention last May. He has a new book, "Ted, White & Blue: The Nugent Manifesto," and a TV show on The Outdoor Channel. The latter won "Fan Favorite Hunting Series" at the eighth annual Golden Moose Awards.

Rock on ...

Return each Sunday to A&E for more news, opinion and mayhem by Tom Alesia, [email protected] Until then, go to www.madison.com/wsj/home/entertainment for the State Journal's other offerings and Madison's most complete guide to upcoming shows in Coming Attractions.


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