FOLK AMERICANA / Music Thursdays in May & June at 8pm
Folk songs are everybody’s songs, music learned firsthand from family and friends, and passed on person to person and from generation to generation. In these songs are the oral history of America, our traditions, our feelings, our sufferings and joys. We are thankful that there were devoted songcatchers who saw the significance and beauty of this music, who not only recorded the sounds, but also the sights, of last remaining echoes of this untouched authenticity. These filmmakers and musicologists understood and appreciated that long before we worshipped false American Idols, we listened to the root and heard the trees singing songs of the sea.
Presented by Arthur Magazine
Thursday, May 8, 8pm: Alan Lomax: Songhunter
“I thought of Alan as a Minotaur — half man, half supernatural — who defied life as we know it.” – Bill Ferris, friend of Alan Lomax
Known as the “song hunter”, Alan Lomax was one of the world’s most prolific and well-known musicologists and folklorists. He is most famous for his recordings from the deep South in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s at penitentiaries, plantations and farms of the Mississippi Delta. He also traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa capturing live field performances, and helped to establish the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song. Tonight, we celebrate Lomax’s career by showing a Dutch documentary on his career, as well as selections from his own incredible film archive, including footage of the New Lost City Ramblers at Carnegie Hall, Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf, and more.
Dir. Rogier Kappers, 2004, digital presentation, 93 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday, May 15 – 8pm: The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music
Imagine a world without rock and roll, or without that obsessive breed of cultural anthropology that favors the margins over the center. That’s the world you’d get without Harry Smith. No one better anticipated the sea change of the ’60s and its post-revolutionary landscape than this son of Theosophists, experimental filmmaker, Native American ethnographer, alchemical evangelist, speed freak, town crier and collector extraordinaire. His three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music, with its archive of “blues singers, hillbilly musicians and gospel chanters,” in the words of Greil Marcus (whose Old Weird America lends its title), launched Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and the folk revival of the early ‘60s, just for starters. This loving portrait by Rani Singh, Smith’s one-time assistant and co-curator of his archives, blends biography with concert footage of Beck, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Nick Cave and other musical archaeologists performing songs from the Anthology, to capture the life of one of America’s secular saints.
Dir. Rani Singh, 2006, DigiBeta, 90 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday, May 22 – 8pm: John Cohen Films
John Cohen, founding member of the ‘50s folk troupe the New Lost City Ramblers, started making films in order to bring together the two disciplines he was heavily active in: music and photography. His first film, The High Lonesome Sound, is a love letter to Appalachia and features the amazing banjo picker Roscoe Holcomb as the anchor for this gem of cultural anthropology. Next, The End of an Old Song brings us to North Carolina, and demonstrates the power of old English ballads sung with gusto while soused in a saloon. Sara and Maybelle is a rare filmed performance of the two titular members of the Carter Family, Musical Holdouts is an expansive survey of American musical subcultures that steadfastly refuse to be blanded by mainstream consciousness, and Post Industrial Fiddle explores the importance of music-making in the life of a pulp mill worker in rural Maine. All deceptively simple, but profound stuff.
Dir. John Cohen, 1962-82, various formats, 120 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday, May 29 – 8pm: Hootenanny Hoot
Far away from the smoky boho coffee klatches of New York, wild college kids of the early ‘60s had their own fun singing and dancing down by the river in bikinis and short shorts at hootenannies, big jam sessions with great musicians. These were taken so seriously that B-movie mogul Sam Katzman (Rock Around The Clock) capitalized on the phenomenon with Hootennany Hoot. In it, two randy Madison Ave. ad men travel up the Hudson River Valley in search of fresh faces and become betwitched by the Hoot. The frivolity is fun and goes down easy, but the reasons not to miss HH are the key performances: Johnny cash sings “Frankie and Johnny” from out of the back seat of his car, Judy Henske (“Queen of the Beatniks”) taps the root and awakens the beast within for “Wade In The Water”, and suggestive ballads by Joe and Eddie hint at how the times would be a-changin’.
Dir. Gene Nelson, 1963, 16mm, 91 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday, June 5 – 8pm: Folk Shorts by Les Blank
We present three folk film classics by Les Blank, who’s spent nearly 50 years documenting on film the tastes, sounds and rituals of both regional America and points abroad. His singular freewheeling viewpoint of celebrating “simple, loving people of the Earth” has garnered him countless awards, including AFI’s Maya Deren Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achivement in 1990. The Blues Accordin’ To Lightnin’ Hopkins is a loving portrait of blues legend Hopkins, serving a heaping helping of live performances at both a community barbeque in his hometown of Centerville, Texas, and an all-black rodeo. The Sun’s Gonna Shine is a brief lyrical recreation of Hopkins’ decision at age eight to stop chopping cotton and start singing for a living, and Sprout Wings And Fly is a poignant tribute to Appalachian fiddler Tommy Jarrell, whose unpretentious folk wisdom is interlaced with family scenes and reminiscences, plus plenty of old-time music.
Dir. Les Blank, 1969-83, 35mm, 80 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday June 12, 8pm – Bound for Glory
Hal Ashby’s epic, simple and understated biopic of Woody Guthrie, detailing his exodus from the Midwest to California, is a masterpiece of ‘70s cinema, not only for its depiction of Guthrie’s music, but also for its portrayal of Dust Bowl despair. The story of a small-town farmer seeking prosperity in the West, Guthrie instead finds himself an able-bodied singer-songwriter. His lyrics and songs speak to the unspoken truths of the wage-slave poor working in the fields struggling against wealthy landowners. Inspired by Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory won two Oscars for Haskell Wexler’s cinematography (the film was the first ever to utilize the Steadicam) and for Leonard Rosenman’s music. David Carradine’s performance is uncompromising as he breathes life into Woody’s songs and the late Ronny Cox (Ozark Bule) as Woody’s trusted union confidant deserves mention.
Dir. Hal Ashby, 1976, 35mm, 147 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday June 19, 8pm: Festival, shown with The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival
Two from documentarian Murray Lerner, best known today for his work in music films. First up is Festival, Lerner’s priceless document of the whole Newport festival scene from ’63-’65. Alongside clips of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Donovan are many performances by veteran blues musicians of the day like Howlin’ Wolf and Son House, who received at the festival their first exposure to white audiences outside of their respective home bases. Next is The Other Side of the Mirror, a deeper examination of Dylan’s performances at the Newport Folk Festival from that same period, 1963-65. Early on, Dylan captured the imagination of the Newport crowds, but his infamous ’65 appearance in which he “went electric” earned him the wrath of some of the more vocal members of the crowd, and he left the stage after three songs. The Other Side presents footage from this incident, as well as great renditions of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”
Festival Dir. Murray Lerner, 1967, 35mm, 95 min
The Other Side Of The Mirror Dir. Murray Lerner, 2007, 35mm, 83 min.
Tickets – $10
Thursday June 26, 8pm: Celebration at Big Sur
In 1971, everyone did it. And they did it for love. Filmed at the legendary West Coast philosophical retreat The Esalen Institute (which gave birth to EST and which counted Henry Miller as a regular guest), the very rarely screened Celebration at Big Sur is a terrific document of this formerly annual concert, featuring the sounds of CSNY, Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Farina, Dorothy Morrison, John Sebastian and Joni Mitchell, all performing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Like Woodstock, the Celebration was a free festival that had major quirks, which in turn made for great filmic moments. Highlights include Steven Stills getting into a fight with a heckler, experimental Jordan Belson-like bits during Joni’s piano playing, and David Crosby skinny-dipping with Carl Gottlieb (the film’s producer and the co-writer of Jaws) in the infamous Esalen baths while chanting up a storm. Purify yourself at the sea of madness!
Dirs. Baird Bryant & Johanna Demetrakas, 1971, 35mm, 82 min.
Tickets – $10