Tulsa Politics as Karaoke Competition

by Joshua Kline

06/12/2010

Most viewers will mistake The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher for a retelling of Quevedo’s El buscon. That was certainly my impression based on the promotional material. But, now that I’ve viewed the finished film, I realize that the parallels are entirely incidental. In actuality, director Justin Monroe and writer/actor Jack Roberts have constructed an insidiously brilliant critique of Tulsa politics–Duncan Christopher is, in fact, the story of Tulsa’s last mayoral race.

The film’s title character is a clueless, D&D-obsessed 30-year-old with a good heart and no musical talent, who plans to compete in a city-wide karaoke competition that he believes will launch him into rock-stardom.

The film could well be called The Political Dreams of Tom Adelson. Duncan’s blind optimism, misplaced passion and aspirations of grandeur parallel Adelson’s own quixotic adventure as a Democrat who ran on a campaign platform of “Go Green” cheerleading. Similarly, Duncan’s cousin/manager Charlie (read: Adelson’s campaign manager, Hilary Kitz) is obsessed with alternative energy sources (his car runs on veggie oil, and he builds a wind-powered generator). I don’t know what Kitz drives, but it clearly should be a Prius.

Dewey Bartlett, Jr. appears as Duncan’s main competitor, S.I. (his initials stand for Simply Irresistible, and I’m fairly certain his every line of dialogue is pulled from a Robert Palmer song). S.I. dons a cowboy hat, is shown to have no ethics as a competitor, and wears glasses to hide his evil eyes. It’s well-known that Bartlett is the president of an oil company, and must therefore have all the moral fiber of a camel cricket. Also, I’m pretty sure his favorite song is “Addicted to Love.”

Kathy Taylor shows up as Duncan’s doe-eyed love interest and main karaoke competitor, Geneveve. Geneveve, not having the stomach for competition, bows out prematurely in order to guarantee Duncan’s spot in the race. Sound familiar?

The film even includes Tulsa’s minor political figures: A crazy old cop obsessed with Elvis, meant to represent Mark Perkins. An unseemly, suit-and-tie clad hip-hop wannabe standing in for Chris Medlock (and portrayed with awkward fervor by Steve Cluck). But the real star of the film is Tulsa’s fucked government.

In the end, of course, Duncan loses the competition (Spoiler Alert) and is left to tell his story to the only place that will have him: a high school newspaper. Likewise, Adelson is now a columnist for our city’s alternative weekly.

As portrayed by Roberts, Duncan comes off as the little brother of Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love–a mess of awkward buffoonery, lacking charm and social grace, entirely unlikeable except for the fact that he is clearly on his way to being a full-blown schizophrenic, and therefore not responsible for his untoward behavior. Roberts takes the ineptness too far; Adelson is in fact likeable and does not suffer from schizophrenia. Peter Bedgood’s Charlie (a spot-on portrayal of political reporter Michael Bates) fares better as the requisite supporting heartthrob, but his acting is jarringly professional and consequently appears out of place much of the movie.

Clearly intentional, the film mixes metaphors and is deliberately unclear about what exactly it’s trying to say (the Tenenbaum-esque storybook aesthetic substitutes whimsy for satire, for example). In his legendary critique of Hopper’s The Last Movie, ’70s iconoclast Pablo Steinschneider asserted that brilliant filmmaking occurs when the viewer’s learned notions of logic and good sense are assaulted into a pre-birth state–a card that is deftly played several times throughout Rock & Roll Dreams.

The film’s soundtrack (apart from the atrocious karaoke choices) is an expertly compiled mix tape of some of Oklahoma’s finest under-the-radar acts. But even Sherree Chamberlain’s cooing lullabies and Ryan Lindsey’s sleepy-eyed pop can’t erase the trauma of Cluck’s “O.P.P.” rendition. Pray those in charge of the retail soundtrack avoid the temptation to include the film’s karaoke performances.

It should be noted that Taylor’s office helped to subsidize the production of the film. Not so coincidentally, her character (played by Lizz Carter) is by far the most likeable, and the most attractive.

Duncan Christopher is making its home-state debut Saturday night not in Tulsa, but in Oklahoma City, as part of the DeadCenter Film Festival. City dwellers unfamiliar with Tulsa politics may miss the real point of the film, but the story of “Duncan Adelson” is sure to appeal to all generations of politically-inclined Oklahomans.