"No Nukes" is a documentary-style concert movie in which James Taylor and 10 musical friends seek to wash down the castor oil of a political call-to-arms with a large measure of their best-known songs.
Surprisingly, they get away with it,
The film -- opening today at three theaters -- was shot during a series of anti-nuclear concerts and rallies held in New York City last September. It moves easily from song to song, then stops in the middle for a 10-minute tirade against atomic power. It returns with Bruce Springsteen -- unfortunately not quite in top form -- and bows out with a hopeful smile.
This is no "Hard Day's Night" by any means -- it has a message instead of a plot -- but its spirit is more buoyant and less threatening than the hard-rock concert footage of the 60's. Haskel Wexler's photography is clear and never artsy, the direction is successfully unobtrusive, and by definition, neither the music nor the musicians inclined toward bomb throwing.
Taylor, who starts things off with Carly Simon in a rythmic, delightful arrangement of "Mockingbird," gets more time than anyone and becomes the effective host. His stage presence, likable and grown-up, sets a nonfanatic tone right off.
It is a great delight to recognize that nobody seems very young anymore. Crosby, Stills and Nash, gathering backstage in an attempt to recature their once-omnipresent arrangement of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," roll their eyes in nostalgis. But they do recapture it. And Bonnie Raitt, whatever she sings or does, seems the answer to whatever question you may have.
Jackson Browne contributes a fine "Running on Empty," thought of all the cast his fears for the future of civilization -- brought to us in an interview, and in round-table discussions -- seem the least interesting. Browne suffers from Warren Beatty Political Syndrome. He's so good looking you couldn't care less what he Really Believes.
The Doobie Brothers, though two of them still look like tropical plants wearing high heels, turn in a striking "What a Fool Believes," and although Graham Nash subjects us to a warning about "giant mutant sponges," his "Our House" makes up for it.
Just when the feeling of having the best seats at the concert of the year is fully established, the singing comes to a halt and the no-nukes movie-within-the-movie starts up. As a listing of arguments against nuclear power, it contains nothing new. But the clip from an old segment of "The Big Picture" (1952), in which a chaplain cast by the Department of Defense counsels two soldiers not to fear the atomic bomb ("which contains all the colors of the rainbow as it ascends into the heavens"), is a wonderful footnote in hysterical history.
Bruce Springsteen is set up as the most eargerly awaited act on the program, and it falls to him to gets things going again after the midpoint commercial. Springsteen takes the opportunity to introduce a new song, "The River," an astringent ballad that he tries to ride bareback for five minutes, but that throws him early. After sweating through a very loose version of "Thunder Road," he returns -- finally joined by Clarence Clemmons on Sax -- to New Jersey rock and roll, and saves his reputation.
"No Nukes" does not have much of a sense of humor, but it does deliver both Ralph Nader and Jane Fonda with a straight face. Fonda is lovely and mad. Nader is just mad, but has on one of those skinning ties, which contracts well with the Doobie Brothers.
This film, and the concerts last year, were sponsored by MUSE ("Musicians United for Safe Energy"). Monies from the sale of tickets -- after the deduction of expenses -- will be funneled toward continued efforts against nuclear energy, we are told.
As a tract against nuclear energy, this film has the veracity of a rock concert. But if MUSE can have its cake and eat it too -- why not?