Nothing has damaged the pop-music industry more — not online technology, not American Idol — than the decline and fall of its A&R departments: the ”artists and repertoire” folk who used to fan out across the country to discover new talent. In Craig Zobel’s Great World of Sound, a terrific, small, funny, sad movie, Martin (Pat Healy), clean-cut and owl-eyed — think David Hyde Pierce without irony — and Clarence (Kene Holliday), a portly dude who speaks in a happy rasp, go to work for Great World of Sound records, a tiny label that has set up shop in an anonymous Southern office park. Their job is to go out on the road and audition local talent, then charge each musical hopeful a few thousand bucks to help pay for a recording session.
It is all, in fact, a big scam — an amateur-hour version of Glengarry Glen Ross. But the thing is, the two men don’t know they’re fakes. They think they’re bona fide talent agents who are going to have a shot at producing records. They’re getting duped as badly as the people they’re duping. Great World of Sound has some of the acridly lively desperation of Glengarry (Holliday is inspired as a natural-born salesman in cheap suits), only there’s a disarming sweetness to it as well, since the musicians aren’t laughable. The movie has an affection for their warbling, strumming American ardor. Great World of Sound is about the chicanery that feeds off pinched wallets, but it’s also a metaphorical satire of a music business so busy scavenging for sales it has forgotten its roots. A-