To You Sweetheart, Aloha 2006, 2004
Distributed by New Day Films, 190 Route 17M, P.O. Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926; 888-367-9154 or 845-774-7051
Produced by S. Leo Chiang & Mercedes Coats
Directed by S. Leo Chiang & Mercedes Coats
DVD, color, 88 min.
College - Adult
Date Entered: 11/01/2006Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA
This lovingly made documentary is about Bill Tapia, a musician now in his mid-nineties, and the brief, close friendship he has with a very young woman named Alyssa that saves him from despair and depression after the death of his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, though the subjects it explores are worth attention and the filmmakers do not pull any punches in exploring them, the production lacks the grace and finesse it needs to succeed in its difficult assignment.
Bill Tapia grew up in Hawaii, playing ukulele from the time he was young. He became a professional musician, playing with many bands and backing up stars like Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and many more. When the film opens, Bill is 94 and has lost both his wife of more than 60 years and his daughter. He is despondent. Alyssa, a young woman whose forebears were Hawaiian musicians, enters his life and works to revive his career. As Alyssa shepherds Bill through radio interviews, recording sessions, and concert dates, their friendship grows. She is his manager. While the friendship does not seem sexual (although one could interpret it that way), Bill’s grandchildren think Alyssa is exploiting Bill. They ask her to distance herself from him and, reluctantly, she does. Alyssa wonders whether the original relationship - the friendship of a young woman who loves Hawaiian music and an old man who has played it all his life - has taken on a dark character, without their realizing it. Has Bill has fallen in love with her? Bill, who depends on Alyssa for everything he does, claims he loves her like a granddaughter.
During the two years in which they were close, Alyssa motivates Bill to renew his career, helping him secure a place of honor in the Hawaiian folk/jazz music community. But, at the end of the film, as he is about to play his most important gig in the biggest hall in Honolulu, Alyssa flies back to the mainland. She wishes him a good concert and, like a professional, he rises to the occasion and plays well. The film closes as he performs his lifelong favorite, a bittersweet number, “To You Sweetheart, Aloha.”
Technically, the film is uneven. Some scenes are well paced, attractively shot, and beautifully presented. Other scenes display none of these good features, but are excessively slow and dark, and appear amateurish. The juxtaposition on the screen of real interviews with sound tracks from the same interviews used as voiceovers for scenes of concerts, broadcasts, and other events is disconcerting and confusing. The voiceovers might work better if they were used sparingly, to illustrate a particular point, rather than being repeated as a means of varying what the viewer sees while interviewees are speaking. On the whole, the camerawork is good, but, in many scenes, lighting and/or sound are poor.
The audience for the piece is unclear and it lacks educational focus.