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Movie Review: Sounds Good To Me

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On Sunday, November 4, 2012 Michael Marcus of The Recorded A Cappella Review Board hosted a screening of Sounds Good To Me, a documentary about a cappella, for attendees of SoJam X. The film initially appeared in film festivals in 2009.

On watching Sounds Good To Me, two thoughts sprung to mind:
1) I wish I could have watched this movie six years ago.
2) This is the ultimate complement to Pitch Perfect.

Six years ago, I was a budding a cappella fan with virtually no sense of what happened behind the scenes for a cappella groups and very little frame of reference for a cappella beyond the ICCA shows that occurred close to my home.

In 2012, I imagine that there are thousands of new a cappella enthusiasts not so different than I was. While the ICCAs were my entry point to a cappella, the new Pitch Perfect had all the music and good humor to accomplish the same effect on a much grander scale.

Only, it’s not entirely realistic.

Marc Silverberg’s very valid arguments aside, most groups can’t pull riff offs out of their butts, arrange Bruno Mars-Nelly mashups on the fly, or trade out an established soloist for someone who has never sung a cappella before the day before International Finals. While Pitch Perfect nails the electricity of competitive a cappella, its missing plenty of nuts and bolts.

That’s where Sounds Good To Me thrives. In following a half dozen or so collegiate a cappella groups over the period of a year, the documentary lacks some of the coherence and narrative arc many of us crave in our films, but is truly exceptional as introductory textbook for an audience interested in learning about the inner workings of a cappella. The film is broken into “chapters,” ranging from the audition process, to group dynamics, to soloist selection, to arranging, to choreographing, to competition, and a number of points in between.

One of the shrewdest decisions in the film is to include lots of music. Many segments of the documentary start or end with a cappella groups performing, which offer viewers a glimpse at final products and reminders of what all of the behind-the-scenes work is building toward.

The film also encapsulates some truly amazing stories. There’s the beatboxer who challenges a group’s identity (we’ve never had a dedicated vocal percussionist before—is that possible?!). There’s a young man, paralyzed in a tragic accident who both literally and figuratively finds his voice again via his college a cappella group. These are the sorts of human dramas a documentarian could never really plan for that add texture to the informational style of the film and make it a real joy to watch.

One of the terrific ironies of the film is that its maker, Paul Marcus, spent time filming Divisi—the very same group Mickey Rapkin was concurrently writing about that would come to be featured in the Pitch Perfect book and arguably skewed into The Bellas for the Pitch Perfect film. Though Divisi did not realize its hopes of returning to the ICCA Finals, fortunately, another group of interest, The Amherst Zumbyes did, and Marcus does an admirable job of capturing their creative process and spirit on film.

Sounds Good To Me is not currently available for sale or streaming, but is likely to surface at future a cappella festival and events. As the title suggests, the film will likely sound quite good to you.

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