Poet Andrei Codrescu, a popular commentator on National Public Radio, hits the road in this documentary that follows him from Manhattan to San Francisco. A Romanian immigrant who came to the US in 1966, Codrescu was commissioned by filmmaker Roger Weisberg to comment on modern America
with the eyes of the old country looking at the new, and vice versa. Codrescu's sardonic quips are amusing in small doses but tend to wear thin; his flippancy overtakes his more deft observations long before the end of this brief film.
A lifelong nondriver, Codrescu learned to drive for this film, in which he would see America in the most mythic way possible: by driving coast to coast in a red Cadillac convertible. He begins as so many immigrants to America do, at the Statue of Liberty, "mistress of kitsch." In Manhattan, he
visits impoverished Haitians squatting in the Lower East Side, and Romanians who celebrate the freedom of America by eating gargantuan pieces of meat. Codrescu also visits Allen Ginsberg, who sends him on the road with visions of Jack Kerouac and Walt Whitman dancing in his head.
Visiting old haunts along the way, he passes through Camden, New Jersey, where a jail has been built across from Whitman's house. Visiting a commune of self-described "Christian communists," he is intrigued to meet people for whom the term "communism" has personal meaning. (After awhile,
Codrescu's regularly-offered memories of life in communist Romania start to seem merely churlish; he is fond of pointing out that he came from the area once known as Transylvania, as if to imply that Dracula was never more than a sunset away.)
In Detroit, Codrescu examines the wreck of a once-thriving city with a tone similar to Michael Moore's ROGER AND ME (1989). He visits business symbols like the Chicago Board of Trade and McDonald's U. In the Midwest, he meets a Native-American spokesman and takes gun lessons from an instructor who
has also been a model for Playboy and Penthouse. Arizona and New Mexico provide more religious and spiritual experiences in the form of New Age practitioners, a commune of American Sikhs, and Biosphere 2. After the inevitable stop in Las Vegas, Codrescu completes his trip in San Francisco, where,
after shopping at the City Lights bookstore, he helps officiate at a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens.
ROAD SCHOLAR features many other stops besides the ones mentioned above, and that's part of the problem with the film; it seems to have no consistent focus, choosing instead to throw in a little bit of everything in the hope that a guiding thread will emerge. Codrescu's middle European accent and
dry sarcasm can be appealing, but he sounds the same way when he's trying to be sincere, causing his entire narration to sound smarmier than was probably intended. Codrescu begins the film by talking about "America, which seems to get discovered over and over, and never definitively." That
couldn't be more true of this film.
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: Poet Andrei Codrescu, a popular commentator on National Public Radio, hits the road in this documentary that follows him from Manhattan to San Francisco. A Romanian immigrant who came to the US in 1966, Codrescu was commissioned by filmmaker Roger Weisberg… (more)