By Jim Farber
August 15, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

Camp humor does not make sense without the right context. If you miss its coded references and knowing winks, it won’t have the wild and liberating effect it longs for.

The same can be said of the soundtrack to the sublime Camp. If you haven’t seen the film, much of the album’s meaning will be lost on you. If you have, it deepens with every listen.

The movie presents a highly pimpled group of teens at musical camp who’ve committed a serious crime against their generation: They know more about Stephen Sondheim than they do Britney Spears. Many of them are also gay and alienated, even within their own world. Performing is their only way to connect with other people and express themselves, and the poignancy of that realization powers all the songs.

Eight of the CD’s tracks capture the characters’ performances of originals and covers. The version of the Stones’ ”Wild Horses” sung by Daniel Letterle might sound fairly bland, but knowing of his alter ego’s obsessive need to please makes the reading touchingly sweet. Other covers thrive on contrast. For the dewy-eyed teens played by Alana Allen and Anna Kendrick, to attempt Sondheim’s astringently cynical ”The Ladies Who Lunch” is absurd on the face of it. But there’s something movingly real about their will to put the song over.

Meanwhile, director-writer Todd Graff has expanded the whole notion of theater music through his dizzying choice of tunes. Songs by Victoria Williams and Todd Rundgren sit comfortably next to those by Burt Bacharach and Michael Gore (Fame). He fills out the CD with six cuts featured in key background scenes by artists ranging from the Replacements to the Voices of East Harlem. By linking material this broad to characters this yearning, Graff has captured the part of camp that’s loving and free.

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 112 minutes
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