The Pleasures of Being Out of Step

The Pleasures of Being Out of Step

Directed by: David L. Lewis
86 minutes

New England Premiere

One of the most influential players in the modern jazz scene was not a musician or a composer, but a critic by the name of Nat Hentoff, born and raised in Boston. While attending Northeastern University, Hentoff edited the school’s newspaper. He went on to host various jazz-related radio shows on Boston’s WMEX and, later, New York’s WBAI. Once in New York, he became a columnist for the Village Voice and DownBeat magazine. He wrote eloquent and often romantic reviews of albums and performances, transporting the reader to the recording studios or jazz clubs where he cultivated lasting friendships with the musicians.

As his journalism career continued, Hentoff became an advocate for free speech and the protection of civil liberties. He became a prominent public figure of 1960s counterculture through his television interviews and writings on societal unrest. He profiled voices of the revolution such as Bob Dylan and Malcolm X, making sure they were accurately represented, and defended controversial speech and ideas, regardless of whether he agreed with them. His advocacy led him to participate on the board for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education.

PLEASURES chronicles Hentoff’s career as a journalist, activist, and thinker, exploring his relationships with the people he interviewed, inspired, and angered. The film effectively uses radio broadcasts and found footage to show his accomplishments in relation to broader historical context. Voice-over narration taken from Hentoff’s album liner notes illuminates not only his love for jazz music, but his ongoing fight to make sure that speech, in any form, is heard. You may not agree with everything Hentoff has to say, but you will no doubt appreciate his confidence in his right to say it.

—Erica Hill