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DOC TALK

Music on screen in Sturbridge; fighting the good fight

Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, from "When Things Go Wrong: The Robin Lane Story."
Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, from "When Things Go Wrong: The Robin Lane Story."Paul McAlpine

The Shawna Shea Memorial Film Festival (Sept. 21-25) was established in 2012 to honor the young woman of the title, a talented, creative, and fiercely independent 16-year-old. She died in a 1999 automobile accident. The festival categorizes itself as “fringe independent international film,” with an eye for the underrepresented and overlooked. This year it has programmed two documentaries about outstanding rock ‘n’ roll musicians who were famed and popular in their heyday but who have since settled into obscurity.

The title of the 1960 Ventures single “Walk Don’t Run” might not ring a bell. But look it up on Google and you’ll likely instantly recognize the compulsive riffs of this all-instrumental release from a then-unknown band. It reached number two on the Billboard charts. As seen in Staci Layne Wilson’s laidback, entertaining “The Ventures: Stars on Guitars” (2019; screens on Sept. 25 at 5 p.m.) it would be the first of many guitar-driven hits compiled in some 200 albums that have imprinted themselves on our collective musical consciousness from the number one instrumental rock band in the world.

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Wilson includes archival interviews with now-deceased original band members and talks with the jovial, still very much alive founder, octogenarian Don Wilson (the filmmaker’s father ). He reveals that they took Chet Atkins’s jazzy 1956 original release of “Walk Don’t Run” and, because they had not yet developed sufficient skill on their $20 guitars to duplicate it, had to “Venturize it” into the version that now lives through the ages. Other interviewees include John Fogerty, Billy Bob Thornton, Jimmy Page, and some guy in a Mexican wrestler’s mask.

Closer to home is the subject of Tim Jackson’s “When Things Go Wrong: The Robin Lane Story” (2013; screens Sept. 24 at 6 p.m., followed by a live performance by Lane). Lane’s song of the title is another which, when you hear the first few bars, is instantly familiar. And if you are of a certain age, it will propel you back to the Boston music scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when the Rathskeller was rocking with local talent like Lane and her band the Chartbusters as well as visiting bands, including the Police, Talking Heads, and the Ramones.

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Jackson, who was the drummer for the Chartbusters, begins Lane’s story with her origins in LA, where her pianist father, Ken, had been Dean Martin’s accompanist. (There’s a hilarious clip from “The Dean Martin Show,” featuring her dad, in which Jonathan Winters plays his character Maude Frickert.) A rebellious teen with a proclivity for car theft and a bad habit of blundering boldly into dicey situations (an incident in a hotel room with Sal Mineo is eyebrow raising), she gravitated to Laurel Canyon in the ‘60s and hung out with nascent pop giants like Stephen Stills, Gram Parsons, Tim Hardin, and Neil Young (she sings back-up on his 1969 “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” album ). There she discovered her talent for songwriting. In 1979 she and the band had achieved enough local success and national fame to sign with Warner Brothers Records, and their video of “When Things Go Wrong” was the 11th one played on MTV. Despite several national tours, two albums, and being voted one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 10 new bands of 1980 it was all over three years later.

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Enlivened with intimate interviews with Lane and friends, family, and colleagues and access to a wealth of archival material, including live performances, Jackson’s film brings to life the best of times/worst of times era in rock when women like Lane had to contend with male chauvinism, abuse, addiction, and depression to create music that still uplifts us today.

All screenings take place at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center, 366 Main St., Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Go to www.shawnasheaff.org.

Pauli Murray in 1979.
Pauli Murray in 1979.Amazon Studios

Unsung hero

Pauli Murray, who died in 1985, at 74, led a life that embodied the concept of intersectionality. It also was packed with enough drama, courage, injustice, frustrations, vindication, and requited and unrequited romances for a half dozen Hollywood biopics. Or for one artful, enlightening documentary like Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s “My Name Is Pauli Murray.”

Growing up in Jim Crow North Carolina, Murray was keenly aware of racial injustice and refused to accept it. In 1940, 15 years before Rosa Parks, she and a friend took a bus to Virginia, where they were arrested for refusing to sit in the back. The injustice spurred Murray to get a law degree. While studying at Howard University in 1944, she proposed to a class a novel way to overcome Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court case that permitted segregation. Though scoffed at by her male classmates her ideas formed the basis of Thurgood Marshall’s successful arguments in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ended segregation in public schools.

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A firebrand in the crusade for women’s rights, Murray cofounded the National Organization for Women, in 1966, and was credited by Ruth Bader Ginsberg as a coauthor of a brief on the 1971 case Reed v. Reed, which determined that persons could not be discriminated against “on the basis of sex.”

When it came to one injustice, however, Murray remained publicly silent. She had always personally identified as a male and had been tormented by the impossibility at that time to be recognized as such. She also feared that her long-time relationship with a woman would be revealed. Today many in the LGBTQ community regard her as a hero. As with so many other issues, Murray was ahead of her time.

“My Name Is Pauli Murray” screens at the Kendall Square Cinema, beginning Sept. 17, and can be streamed on Amazon Prime beginning Oct. 1. Go to www.landmarktheatres.com/boston/kendall-square-cinema and www.amazon.com/My-Name-Pauli-Murray/dp/B09DMPMWCP.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.