Find us on facebook

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Festival!", a music collage of the Sixties

In-Edit Beefeater Festival 2011, chapter III

After Dylan and Kings of Leon, for our third film of the weekend at the In-Edit Festival, we "went" back to Newport, back to director Murray Lerner, and back to folk. But as I already announced when I reviewed "The Other Side of the Mirror", this film offers much than that previous documentary.

"Festival!" synthesizes four consecutive editions of the Newport Folk Festivals, from 1963 to 1966, being a complete summary, more a testimony, with many moments to highlight, of what was the music folk scene, and how it evolved. Lerner uses the same approach as we saw with the Dylan documentary: filming loads of songs. But this time the songs are not entirely recorded, as that's just a part of the film. The director wants to capture almost everything. As many artists as possible on stage, his/her opinions, as well as the audience's, and he also captures situations (pure cinema verité) that explain better than many speeches what's a Festival. All in all, a very entertaining package, an absorbing collage.

Of course, an amount of songs and artists wouldn't have much meaning if it didn't reveal something. And I would say "Festival!" is indeed able to tell us a few things. It offers an interesting attempt to define the nature of folk. Taking the opinions of public and some of the most dynamic performances, it is easy to catalogue folk as a popular art, that despite its message, is quite close to people, and then easy to understand. It is also a culture that intends to be participatory. It is really appealing to see/hear how young people debates on the  relevance of the lyrics as opposing the bubblegum pop that dominated radios by then, while others concede the most important virtue on the fact folk equals people: looks, beliefs, music skills don't matter that much.

There are contradictions though. Some artists prefer the company of the audience like Joan Baez, while others, Dylan basically, prefer to stay away from them. Some fans glorify the musician, while others debate on the need of fame. And there also different opinions on the music itself, as Lerner wants to show the different music styles that were gathered at Newport, from the open, politically charged early folk of Donovan, to the more eccentric, odd, numbers. Particularly striking in that sense is the "debate" on the blues. Watching Son House talking about it is just mind blowing.

Why I won't rate "Festival!" as a masterpiece then? Well, first, because it gets a bit weary. Not every scene (song, artist) adds something relevant, and I got the feeling, at least a couple of times, that the interest in what was being suggested (by an interview, or a series of songs) gets lost at the next scene. Second, because some labelling wouldn't do any harm. I guess in 1967 all the artists we see on it were very famous, but 44 years later... that doesn't help the flow of the movie. And third, and despite it doesn't have to do with "Festival!" itself, because the In-Edit organization didn't provide us a good viewing of the film. We lost Howlin' Wolf's performance due to the cuts in the image and the sound became pretty bad at the end. Sad.

Peter, Paul & Mary, Odetta, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Judy Collins, Howlin’ Wolf, Pete Seeger, Baez, Dylan, Son House... too many amazing artists to dislike this film. On the contrary, it is very easy to recommend and has many points of interest. But it lacks some punch to achieve what it could have been.

SCORE: 6,5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment