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The Song Spinner Reviews

Set in a mythical realm, this made-for-TV feature cloaks an anti-censorship allegory in austere fantasy. The medievalesque kingdom of Shandrilan has been cold and quiet ever since its poltroon of a monarch, Frelo the Magnificent (John Neville), proclaimed the "Hush Law" banning music and regulating sound itself. Enforcing the order is power-hungry Captain Nizzle (David Hemblen), whose Noise Police seize unlicensed musicians, balladeers, or anyone who accidentally makes a racket. Then a Shandrilan exile returns, a melodious "witch" named Zantalalia (Patty Lupone), who defiantly hums and carries an empty birdcage. Aurora (Meredith Henderson) is the daughter-apprentice of the Court Whisperer, trained to make announcements in the most muted tones. Yet she hears music in her dreams; her late grandfather, a friend of Zantalalia's, was a horn player. Zantalalia shows the girl a song spinner, a sort of choral music box left over from pre-Hush Law days. Nizzle arrests Zantalalia and orders the song spinner to be burned in public. A contrite Frelo visits the prisoner; it seems he had once loved Zantalalia, and passed the Hush Law in a jealous pique to focus her attentions on him, instead of on her passion for singing. The crucial "Sunwatch" ritual, in which all Shandrilan must raise their voices to serenade the changing seasons, is about to take place. If they perform only the silent dance now allowed, winter will persist. Using the song spinner and her own vocals, Aurora reintroduces music to the citizens, causing a bloodless revolt that overthrows Nizzle, as Frelo repudiates the Hush Laws and tentatively renews his relationship with Zantalalia. Fairy tales are one of mankind's oldest narrative forms. Yet rarely do filmmakers try to weave a wholly original fantasy without falling back on hoary cliches of unicorns, dragons, swordsmen and, lately, a heavy STAR WARS (1977) influence. THE SONG SPINNER is a modest wonder, a dramatic parable that doesn't indulge in special-effects glitz or childish whimsy. The uncommonly somber atmosphere is a shock at first, as is the sight of famed Broadway diva Lupone, shorn of glamour and mascara, heading a cast right out of a peasant canvas by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The forbidden music itself is a strange harmonic chant, rather than Disney show tunes. The moody treatment respects the serious subject matter of tyranny and artistic suppression, even if the sense of danger is low (the worst the Noise Police can ever do is send people into exile) and the metaphors a bit obvious. THE SONG SPINNER was filmed in Alberta and Nova Scotia, making good use of an icy climate and colonial fortifications.