The world changes and evolves so quickly that we forget how great things were in the past. OK, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, but am I wrong? In Knights of Swing, we’re carried gently back to yesteryear, when swing and big band were the music of choice for the men returning home after World War II. The film, written and directed by Emilio Palame and David M. Gutel with Rolland Jacks as co-writer, takes place in 1947 in the city of Lynwood, a suburb of Los Angeles, and is based on Jacks’ teen years.
Teenagers Gifford Williams (Curran Barker) and Nolan Edwards (Kyle DeCamp) dream of turning their garage band, the Jammin’ Pajama Men, into a full-fledged swing band. So they enlist the help of their Castle High School science teacher, Herb Miller (Richard Neil). With the support of principal Lou “King” Arthur (Emilio Palame), the Knights of Swing are born, and everything moves along swingingly. As musicians, the students are exceptional (must be that Lynwood water), and Giff’s talent for composing is elevated thanks to Herb’s groovy orchestrations.
But, like any good high, it’s gotta come crashing down. When the Knights begin their search for a female singer, Mrs. Burlutski (Amanda Lamberti), wife of one of the school board members, vows to shut them down when they refuse to let her insufferably more “talented” daughter be the lead singer. The town believes the Knights of Swing are ready to take on the Santa Barbara Swing Competition, yet Burlutski and her band of racist cohorts place one roadblock after another to put an end to the band and crush the dreams of the Castle High music department.
“…dream of turning their garage band…into a full-fledged swing band…”
Knights of Swing is a feature film about a literal band of students with talent and a dream. The attraction of the film is the music. There’s a lot of it, and it sounds spectacular. As explained in the show, the Knights stood out from every other high school band because of their unique orchestrations. When it’s pointed out in the story, you hear it right away.
My only issue is that Palame and Gutel’s writing is way too on-the-nose with its inspiring story of youth and music. The good and bad characters are sharply defined. Good people act good, bolstered by a spirit of hope, and the bad people are really bad because of jealousy and racism. There is no nuance in the slightest. The story is also loaded with its fair share of happy coincidences. How is Lynwood suddenly producing musical progenies who all happen to be attending the same high school and all in the same class of students? The problem with a setting that is too perfect is that we know the outcome long before the finale.
That said, who can fault Knights of Swing for wanting to be a positive film? The film is about the personal, emotional, and societal influence music can have. It simply oozes positivity. So, of course, the fantastic music plays a significant role — more than you can imagine. The filmmakers make swing music a character throughout each episode. The students, along with musical mentors Herb and Lou, walk us through the songwriting and orchestration process like an advanced composition class. Like good teachers, they push for perfection but stay within the limits of the students’ abilities. Speaking of music, it’s top-notch, the bee’s knees. You’re in for a toe-tapping good time.
The Knights of Swing pushes hope, teamwork, and positivity to the extreme, which quite frankly is something we could use a lot more of these days.
For screening information, visit the Knights of Swing official website.
"…a toe-tapping good time."