Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation

Its blandly generic title is all too disappointingly germane to this loving but far from incisive documentary covering a vital time in music history.

Jan 21, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370298-Greenwich_Village_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In this age dominated by overproduced, emptily repetitive pop music, with its noxious accessories like Auto-Tune wherein faulty voices can be manipulated into soulless perfection, the sweetly earnest, often politically deep folk music of the 1960s and early ’70s may sound refreshingly more simple, human and resonant than ever. Laura Archibald’s documentary Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation attempts to give us a full-scale portrait of that era.

To do so, she has been careful to elucidate the context of that transfiguring time which witnessed the birth of the singer-songwriter, and amassed an impressive number of surviving interviewees: Pete Seeger, Judy Collins (looking more like a Valkyrie than ever), a near-unrecognizable Arlo Guthrie, Peter Yarrow, Tom Chapin, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a now-avuncular John Sebastian, Lucy and Carly Simon, etc. Although her film is warm and affectionate in the extreme, and filled with wonderful vintage performance clips, Archibald unfortunately misses the mark. None of the speakers has a chance to say anything deeply revelatory, as her decision to jump around from artist to artist offers nothing more than sound bytes of often repetitive information about how the Village was once a lively, affordable, and sympathetic mixing pot of political and musical energies, so different from the pricey playground for movie stars and hedge-fund types that it is today, and blanket statements like “They were journalists as much as they were musicians.”

Along with all the bright-eyed, youthful, happy vibes, Archibald also evokes the House Committee on Un-American Activities-engendered blacklisting which ruined so many careers of liberal thinkers branded by the government as Communist insurgents, but again, the treatment is unhappily cursory. One yearns, for example, to hear the full story of Buffy Sainte Marie’s persecution which has made her, in her words, a star in Canada but basically unknown when she crosses the border into the U.S. That ever-admirable and staunch resister to this heinous pressure, Pete Seeger, does, however, manage to come through with his usual eloquence, wondering, “What in the world is an un-American activity?” But too much time is given extolling the wonder of Bob Dylan, who was undoubtedly hugely influential but, as he does not appear as one of the interviewees, takes undue time away from the others who are so movingly present.

Again, the performance clips do help immeasurably. I was struck by the resemblance to Adele of the young Mama Cass Elliott, with her big body and big, pealing voice; other highlights include Phil Ochs’ wonderful, immortally prescient “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” José Feliciano’s funny impersonation of Dylan’s vocal eccentricities through the years, Richie Havens’ imperishably inspiriting “Freedom,” and the Goddess herself, Joni Mitchell, singing the rare “Night in the City” with the sexiest, horsiest overbite since Gene Tierney.


Film Review: Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation

Its blandly generic title is all too disappointingly germane to this loving but far from incisive documentary covering a vital time in music history.

Jan 21, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370298-Greenwich_Village_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In this age dominated by overproduced, emptily repetitive pop music, with its noxious accessories like Auto-Tune wherein faulty voices can be manipulated into soulless perfection, the sweetly earnest, often politically deep folk music of the 1960s and early ’70s may sound refreshingly more simple, human and resonant than ever. Laura Archibald’s documentary Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation attempts to give us a full-scale portrait of that era.

To do so, she has been careful to elucidate the context of that transfiguring time which witnessed the birth of the singer-songwriter, and amassed an impressive number of surviving interviewees: Pete Seeger, Judy Collins (looking more like a Valkyrie than ever), a near-unrecognizable Arlo Guthrie, Peter Yarrow, Tom Chapin, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a now-avuncular John Sebastian, Lucy and Carly Simon, etc. Although her film is warm and affectionate in the extreme, and filled with wonderful vintage performance clips, Archibald unfortunately misses the mark. None of the speakers has a chance to say anything deeply revelatory, as her decision to jump around from artist to artist offers nothing more than sound bytes of often repetitive information about how the Village was once a lively, affordable, and sympathetic mixing pot of political and musical energies, so different from the pricey playground for movie stars and hedge-fund types that it is today, and blanket statements like “They were journalists as much as they were musicians.”

Along with all the bright-eyed, youthful, happy vibes, Archibald also evokes the House Committee on Un-American Activities-engendered blacklisting which ruined so many careers of liberal thinkers branded by the government as Communist insurgents, but again, the treatment is unhappily cursory. One yearns, for example, to hear the full story of Buffy Sainte Marie’s persecution which has made her, in her words, a star in Canada but basically unknown when she crosses the border into the U.S. That ever-admirable and staunch resister to this heinous pressure, Pete Seeger, does, however, manage to come through with his usual eloquence, wondering, “What in the world is an un-American activity?” But too much time is given extolling the wonder of Bob Dylan, who was undoubtedly hugely influential but, as he does not appear as one of the interviewees, takes undue time away from the others who are so movingly present.

Again, the performance clips do help immeasurably. I was struck by the resemblance to Adele of the young Mama Cass Elliott, with her big body and big, pealing voice; other highlights include Phil Ochs’ wonderful, immortally prescient “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” José Feliciano’s funny impersonation of Dylan’s vocal eccentricities through the years, Richie Havens’ imperishably inspiriting “Freedom,” and the Goddess herself, Joni Mitchell, singing the rare “Night in the City” with the sexiest, horsiest overbite since Gene Tierney.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Calvary
Film Review: Calvary

An invidious, enervating piece of work blessedly relieved by Brendan Gleeson’s empathetic portrayal of a worldly priest confronting the sins of the world. More »

Rich Hill
Film Review: Rich Hill

This study of teens trying to make it in a very depressed and depressing heartland would have benefited from more hard info and less pictorial meandering. More »

Child of God
Film Review: Child of God

Depravity abounds in this James Franco-directed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which despite a committed performance by Scott Haze proves a one-note endurance test. More »

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero
Film Review: Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

A return to the stripped–down ferocity of Eli Roth's no-frills 2002 shocker, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (which the title suggests is a prequel, though it doesn't really feel like one) lacks originality but delivers the body-horror goods far better than genre minimalist Ti West's Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break (2009), a broadly campy spin on ’70s high-school horror clichés. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Get On Up
Film Review: Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman is sensational in this multi-faceted portrait of troubled, pioneering soul-music giant James Brown. More »

Guardians of the Galaxy review
Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

With Marvel’s backing, cult filmmaker James Gunn blasts off for the stars and takes audiences along for a wild, funny ride. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here