Photo by Michal Story, StorySeen https://storyseen.com Joe Frank, rehearsing for a live show in 2010 at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Joe Frank was a legendary radio artist; artist, not just dramatist, monologist or entertainer. He invented a genre all his own that defies description and came from deep within his soul. When we lost him last year, a one-of-a-kind voice was stilled. Fortunately, we still have his recordings, and now a documentary about his life and work by D.P. Carlson, called “Joe Frank: Somewhere Out There.” It’s a finalist in the documentary category at the 6th annual New Filmmakers LA “Best Of” Awards this Saturday in downtown LA.

The title is taken from of one of several series Joe produced as artist-in-residence at Santa Monica public radio station, KCRW, where we both worked. He practically lived at the station, he spent so many hours there. His work was described as “radio noir,” and Joe as having “a voice like gritty honey.” With his personally-designed drone sounds in the background, Joe mesmerized listeners.

So how do you make a movie, the quintessential visual medium, about an artist whose work exists in the ether? D.P. Carlson had to get creative. “Sometimes the choices were easy, like vintage photos, radio iconography, and biographical B-roll.  Other times I had to look toward abstract waveforms, tableaus, landscape time-lapses, etc.  There was a bit of trial and error in the beginning, but after that, I tried to compliment Joe’s narrative style and sound design.”

A fan since discovering Joe on Chicago public radio in the 1980s, Carlson says he financed the film, “From production through editorial, and then raised money through crowdfunding to pay for music rights so it could play in festivals and be distributed in the future.” Offering Joe final approval, Carlson produced, directed, edited and conducted the interviews with Joe, his collaborators, colleagues and friends from childhood and later, and he shot the film with help from a few industry friends.

In a digital era where radio is sometimes regarded as a relic, what can we learn from Joe Frank? Carlson believes that, “Joe Frank will always be accessible to audiences; and this new generation of podcasters can learn a lot from him. He was a master at keeping people tuned-in (and in their cars) until his programs were finished.  Show me someone with that type of command and that’s someone worth listening to!”

As to the secret of Joe’s popularity, Carlson thinks that, “It lies in his unique sound design, but mostly his ability to express the human condition in a dark, disturbing, naturalistic and sometimes funny way. There’s comfort in listening to someone do that for us.”

If a distributor steps up, I’ll let you know where you can see “Joe Frank: Somewhere Out There.” Meanwhile, you can listen to Joe here: www.joefrank.com/listen/. Please do.

THE FAITH HEALER

Frank Hardy has a spotty gift for healing the lame, the sick, the blind, and attracting the gullible. When that gift is on, he and his entourage of two – his wife (or is she his mistress?) and his manager (or is he a friend?) – ride the wave, touring England and Wales to put his “performances” on across the villages and towns of the upper UK. Frank’s gift isn’t always available to him, but there’s always a bottle of whiskey to sustain him when it’s not.

Who is Frank? And who can we rely on to tell us? That’s the conundrum of Brian Friel’s play, “The Faith Healer” now on stage at The Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. It was the first play to be performed in what, 30 years ago, was the Odyssey’s new space (and current location) on Sepulveda Boulevard, even as it was finishing construction. (The theatre will celebrate its 50th anniversary this fall.)

In the current spare but effective production, directed by Odyssey’s Artistic Director Ron Sossi, we hear four monologues that tell the Rashomon-like story of this sometimes magnetic, sometimes cruel man, an alcoholic healer who often inflicts pain on others. Or did they do it to themselves with their own expectations and their own needs and wants?

Paul Norwood plays an understated Frank. It’s almost hard to believe that for 20 years, his wife (or mistress) Grace, poignantly portrayed by Diana Cignoni, and manager Teddy, boozily played by Ron Bottitta, have been under his sway.

As the monologues proceed we learn more about Frank, his demise, and his contradictions from these people, whose memories are not always reliable…let alone Frank’s. Listen closely for the discrepancies, and your sympathies will take some whiplash turns. You will also be lulled by the poetic incantatory nature of the text.

Grace’s story is so piteously painful, Teddy’s so funny but heartbreaking, and Frank, compels attention quietly , making it curious to understand how the other two could have been so doggedly loyal to a figure who doesn’t appear charismatic at all. In fact, he’s a self-doubter whose mind plagues him.

The nature of memory, love, and what draws and keeps us connected to others is the territory explored. “The Faith Healer” runs at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, LA, 90025, through May 12. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.odysseytheatre.com for tickets.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

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