ISN'T THIS A TIME! A TRIBUTE CONCERT FOR HAROLD LEVENTHAL

NR
Reviews

How appropriate there's an exclamation point and not a question mark in the title of Isn't This a Time! A Tribute Concert for Harold Leventhal. Celebrating 50 years of music and freedom of expression, this documentary declares itself with a clarity of purpose. Director Jim Brown gives us much more than a concert film. The 2003 reunion of several major musicians and performers for a Thanksgiving at Carnegie Hall is both heartwarming and historically vital.

As a sequel to Brown's Wasn't That a Time (1982), Isn't This a Time! is even more inspirational because the same participants-including the remarkable group The Weavers-are now in their 70s and 80s, yet just as joyfully talented as ever and even more outspoken. The other talents on hand include Arlo Guthrie, Peter, Paul & Mary, Theodore Bikel and Leon Bibb, but it is The Weavers who provide the film's central focus.

Back in the early 1950s, despite having a succession of hit records, The Weavers-including Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman and the late Lee Hays-were blacklisted for their progressive political beliefs. Entrepreneur Harold Leventhal brought the group to Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1955 for the first of many concerts that defied the ban on The Weavers' unique style of popular and political folk singing. Sadly, Leventhal, who is interviewed for this film, died in October 2005, but his vision lives on here.

Weavers fans will delight in hearing the classics all over again: "Sinner Man," "Goodnight Irene," "When the Saints Go Marching In" and (of course) "Wimoweh." The vocalists are in great form and obviously still love performing. Peter, Paul & Mary share the spotlight with such lesser-known songs as "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" and "Don't Laugh at Me" and they join Seeger for a beautiful, extended rendition of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Leon Bibb also contributes a memorable version of "Shenandoah." Finally, Arlo Guthrie represents the "younger" generation (even though he is middle-aged now) and sings his father Woody Guthrie's seminal "This Land Is Your Land," and his own biggest hit, "City of New Orleans" (so touching today, post-Katrina). Only the Bikel sequence seems superfluous, but it is brief.

Isn't This a Time! speaks (and sings) to several generations at once. Not only are the songs as relevant as ever, so are the issues behind them. The performers show their ability to touch an audience and director Jim Brown captures this happening with a simple, unobtrusive elegance.

-Eric Monder