So what do you do when you hear about the story of this bar singer in a Third World country who just got hired as frontman for an iconic band? You'd probably think it's for the Ripley's or a twitter trend that would last only a day or two at most. But for a filmmaker like Ramona Diaz there lies a story worth putting into the big screen. She knew the risks to take but as anyone with a passion for the things they do, she decided to go through along with her collaborators Capella Fahoome and Josh Green faster than anyone can say 'Don't Stop Believing.' Arnel Pineda could have busted his vocal chords within a few gigs for Journey as their songs are NOT easy to sing and they could have ended up with a thirty minute feature film. But such was their luck and Arnel's, that they were able to follow him for his first four years with the band, and went to capture him perform live before thousands of people in places even Arnel has never even heard of, and capture they did not only his talent but his bravery and fortitude which was showcased in this almost two hour film.
Everyman's Journey is not quite your traditional rockumentary for me as some would call it in the sense that it is not about how a rock band is formed or a day or two in the life of a rock band, nor is it about how an album was produced as is much more often the case in some bands doing their own, such as U2's Rattle and Hum or the Beatles' Let It Be.
It is a full-fledged documentary movie of how a man was plucked from a densely-populated Third World city halfway around the world to do an extraordinary job by an iconic rock band whose beginnings can be traced to about the time Arnel was old enough to do his first communion. That is a fascinating story to begin with.
Taking into consideration all the advantages that the new millenium had to offer by way of the internet, Ramona knew this was where she would begin. After all that's how Arnel's Journey story began.
The film starts off with a scene from a homecoming, that of Arnel visiting the school that first taught him his ABCs. It was interesting how Ramona used this to start the movie. It easily portrayed the laid back nature of Arnel in contrast to the wide eyed, bewildered teacher who's probably never had time to go through the internet and knew what was going on (remember this was filmed 4 or five years ago before apps and wi-fi became household words ) and thus seemed lost at what Arnel was talking about being in a band called 'Journey'. The latter sets the humor element of the film that was evident in a number of scenes. If you are looking for a dark and edgy documentary, this may not be the one for you. But Arnel's character and how he dealt with his life that has gone upside down as he calls it and how he was in control of everything perhaps unknowingly, are what make this film unique.
Arnel was pretty consistent in the film. Laid back and in total control of what he was facing. Even after an adrenaline high after a performance, Arnel knows when to taper down his emotions. It was all work for him as he says. And that leads me to say this is a non-traditional documentary of a rock star, sans the noise and the extravagance often depicted in them.
You can also give it to Arnel's magnetic presence even on the screen and off stage that despite being surrounded by the people who have already made names to themselves and became legends in their field, that when Arnel shows up on screen you just gobble up every second and only see him stand out regardless of who he was with. Now I understand what Ramona meant when she said in one interview that the camera loves him. I think it's like when a camera has a face detector feature, it almost always focuses on Arnel's first.
Throughout the film and during his downtime moments, Arnel is often seen as a softspoken guy and understandably especially before and between gigs to preserve his voice. But he also seems to be always in a pensive mood and taking everything in. One instance of note was when Neal showed some sign of concern when Arnel said he has a cold. And then John Barruck comes and joins the conversation and he talks about tickets being sold out. Neal teases him "Pressure" when he saw a rather glum faced Arnel and to which the latter said "I am just shutting myself up." And I wonder. Where does he get that sense of tranquility with the kind of situation he is in? The answer was not direct but perhaps can be deducted from how he narrates about his humble beginnings and a series of unfortunate events that moulded his character to someday fit into some big shoes. He was pretty good at being articulate and inanimate in expressing himself and giving you that in the moment feeling like when he talked of his first gig in Chile. How I wish Ramona and company were around to capture his first time by themselves for it was the turning point in his being a band member, that of Arnel being thrown into the lion's den not only surviving but in a way taming the discriminating audience of 18,000, excluding the millions who watched on tv.
One element that particularly stands out for me in the film is the irony. Instead of being seen gulping bottles of wine after another as most celebrities and rock stars
are often seen, Arnel instead pours out hot water from the jug to his cup to drink some tea. Just like grandma. Instead of partying after gigs, he goes back to his 'hole' taking as much rest as he can and reflecting on what has been happening to him since he got the new job. There were no blue m&m's to be picked out or demanded, nor expensive branded mineral water or milk to bathe on. He was just your regular guy. Instead of indulging in interesting substances, we see him with an oxygen mask with steam coming out to lubricate those golden chords.
And this irony is what makes this movie more interesting. Ramona captures his daily routine and despite being a newcomer to facing the camera , Arnel hardly showed any sign of self-consciousness. He was a natural. One can't help but think of the kind of rapport that developed between the director and the subject, that she made him comfortable in his own skin, and quite literally to an extent. His 'spiels' flowed smoothly.
Indeed this film not only serves as an inspiration. It also serves as a good study for people who encounter sudden fame and can serve as a crash course on how to maintain one's sanity while playing for your favorite rock band.
Aptly titled Don't Stop Believing, here is a story of a city boy who took that midnight train on a journey going anywhere. Quite an analogy for the big gamble that Arnel took. He held on to that dream , he held on to that feeling - the sight of bright lights, of people everywhere watching , when the bright lights he used to see where the ones that lit up the park he once slept in and surrounded by other homeless people.
One can only do so much in what is meant to be an as-is-where-is movie, as Ramona explains in an interview. Thus, she probably saw the need to add extras which is not a bad thing. My only take with them is that some scenes would actually make a good fit into the movie itself. The wardrobe scenes for example (the Smurf comment was funny) and I would have exchanged those with scenes of stage preparation as extras. I would have also added a couple of stills on the back cover taken from the movie and not just from the concert so as not to mistake this as a concert dvd.
Having said all of that, one is left curious of the other details of Arnel's life story. What was shown on the film was his life on the road as a newbie. But this is a Cinderella story and every fairy tale starts off with 'Once upon a time' which was only partly narrated. There is a back story waiting to be told.