"The Last Philadelphia" from writer/director/editor John Carstarphen is an in-depth look at the multi-racial township of
Towne Gardens - located in Southwest Philadelphia. Spanning the generations of the 60s and 70s and the brutal realities of racial violence - as told from the perspectives of those who lived it - and those still feeling the reverberations decades on. Part documentary, and part personal essay drawing from the well of family and community.
This documentary does itself a great disservice early and throughout by bludgeoning every scene with a heavy-handed use of its backing score. It's way too loud, even to the point where I could not hear what some speakers were saying over the sheer volume. That's curtains for most festival considerations right off the bat, which is a shame because there is a wealth of good material here. The goal of overusing a backing score is to drive home a film's crucial points and enhance the material. In this case, however, "The Last Philadelphia" simply didn't need it. The testimonies are strong enough on their own. A bad visual image can be tolerated - lousy audio is generally considered a showstopper - and the film then has the near-impossible task of having to regain the audience's attention.
It's worth noting that "The Last Philadelphia" was clearly a massive undertaking from an editing point of view, and with that said, let me write that this film is really well put together - combining archival footage with animation recreations. However some are interesting, but others don't always flow within the visual material they are cut around. I also couldn't help but notice a couple of momentum hiccups along the way, mainly during the first half. The issues do, however, let up (a little) in the final act, and I suddenly found myself beginning to respond to what the creator was putting forth. Again, for me, the main issue was with the background scoring. I'm not suggesting that it should go completely - but having the confidence to turn it down would provide a massive improvement. Consider that a large portion of people watches movies while also fiddling around on their phone - good audio and the ability to hear the dialog is so important.
There is no doubt that "The Last Philadelphia" is a good documentary - potentially even a great one. In my opinion, however, the audio issues should have been addressed, and perhaps a little more polish to the overall edit wouldn't hurt either - allowing this film to truly live up to its potential. Still, with all that said, "The Last Philadelphia" earns a respectable two and a half stars out of five stars.