Movies

Film Review: The Winding Stream (2014, Beth Harrington)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs, Movies | Leave a comment

The Winding Stream is a charming and informative look into the lives and careers of The Carter Family, from their humble origins to the great influence that they continue to have in the world of folk and country music. Their influence is made clear from the number of musicians interviewed for this doc, with the likes of Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale, Murray Hammond, Mike Seeger, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all offering up some words on the band’s history and significance. As Ely puts it, “People should know who they are just like they should know who the first president of the United States is.”

While the full title of the film is The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music, the film focuses mostly on the Carters. Not that the Cash family doesn’t play an important part – Roseanne and John Carter Cash as well as Johnny himself are featured in interviews throughout and one of the more memorable moments was watching Johnny speak sweetly about the first time he met and fell for June Carter – but this is largely the Carter Family’s story. And it is quite the story. Through interviews and some archival footage, their story unfolds – their first recording sessions, their rise to fame, and the effect it had on their lives (A.P. and Sara Carter eventually divorced). The film also touches on A.P. Carter’s savvy and somewhat opportunistic idea to travel around collecting old songs, which he would then pass off as his own for the sake of collecting royalties. Looking back at it now, it seems a little shady, though as Roseanne Cash points out, these songs would have faded into obscurity had he not done so.

The Winding Stream is a compelling look at one of the most important, influential groups in the history of country music and well worth watching for both the novice and the hardcore Carter Family fans.

The Winding Stream will be showing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema until April 14.

Hot Docs: The “Socalled” Movie [Garry Beitel, 2010]

Posted on by Mark in Hot Docs, Movies, Reviews | Leave a comment

Toronto – What is it about human nature that drives us to create? Most of us travel through life worried about stepping outside the boundaries prescribed by society. But there are others that seem to have a creative fire that burns brightly from the outset. They create, and create, and create. Some are lucky enough to turn their mental manifestations into a career. The “Socalled” Movie is a portrait of just such an individual.

Socalled is the stage name of Josh Dolgin, a Montreal-based musician that blends Jewish klezmer music with hip hop and funk. The documentary consists of 18 short films that examine different aspects of his life. One vignette shows Josh introducing funk Trombonist Fred Wesley (of James Brown fame) to klezmer music. Another explores the creation of his youtube sensation You Are Never Alone.

It is interesting to see the creative process at work in Josh’s head. However, the energy and momentum created by many of the short films is often derailed with a more plodding interview style that is interspersed throughout. While the “18 short films in a row” approach does allow freedom to jump around, it does come at the expense of continuity. In glimpses we see Josh wear so many hats; first as a musician (pianist, singer, arranger, rapper, producer, composer, and accordionist), and then as a magician, a cartoonist, and a filmmaker.

How could you see [the history of the world] … and not want to be a part of that?  How could you see all this stuff that humans have done with their time and brains and not want to at least give it a try? Cause there’s only one shot of being a part of the world. – Josh Dolgin

It was only at the very ending of the film that things coalesced with Josh’s quote above. In an earlier short, he was quick to admit that he didn’t think of himself as a great singer. Yet he is inspired to keep trying by the creativity he sees around him. Josh wants to be a part of the human saga; and who can blame him? It’s what has been driving him to create his entire life. How human is that?

Hot Docs runs from April 29 till May 9th. The complete Hot Docs schedule can be found here.

Socalled is screened on the following dates

Sun, May 02 9:15 pm at Bloor Cinema.
Tue, May 04 11:30 am at The ROM Theatre.

CMW Film Review: Separado! [Dyl “Goch” Jones, Gruff Rhys, 2009]

Posted on by Paul in Canadian Music Week, Everything, Movies | 2 Comments

Toronto – Separado! is the story of Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys’ quest to find some distant relatives.  It’s also kind of about language, the love of music and just music in general. 

Driven by the desire to meet René Griffiths, a Welsh-Argentinian musician who he once saw on the BBC as a kid and then discovered was related to , Gruff travels to Patagonia to trace his family’s lineage there and to play some music along the way. 

So off he goes to Patagonia, armed with an acoustic guitar, various electronic noisemakers, and a motorcycle helmet looking piece of headgear which supposedly teleports him from place to place (Go Go Power Rangers!)  The helmet is one of the odd stylistic choices Griff has made and it suits the film perfectly.  This, along with the bizarre opening reenactment of a tragic horseracing accident and the opening credits done in ’60s/”70s explotation film style, make a great story even more enjoyable.  There are also several musical interludes that are basically little music videos within the film.

And the music is central to this film.  Even though the thrust of the story is about the search for Griffiths and various other family members, in many ways, it’s really about the music.  Another large reason for Griff’s trip was that he had a new album coming out and had to go on tour.  Deciding he was sick of just going to towns where abooking agent or promoter says there will be a good crowd, Gruff goes way off the beaten path, playing shows in various parts of South America.  His shows are often in small community centre type places (and in one case, an open field with an audience of one horse) and it’s amazing to see the audience’s reactions to this Welshman playing his beautiful, bizarre little tunes for them.  People of all ages (and largely Welsh heritage) come out to the shows and all seem to be enjoying themselves.

One of my favourite parts of the movie is when Gruff meets up and collaborates with a musician named Tony, who plays an electronic percussive instrument he built himself.  Even though neither man understands the other, they share the language of music to the point where all they need is to jam and give each other the thumbs up every now and then.  Language itself is another interesting theme of the film, with Gruff switching between Welsh and English in his narration and also seen in  the various Patagonian residents who hold on to their language and heritage despite the fact that I’m sure many of them have never even been to Wales. 

If you are a Super Furry Animals fan, this one is a must see and even if you’ve never heard them before, it’s still pretty much a must see.  Now I just need to find out where to get one of those teleporter helmets.

Hot Docs Review – Broke [Rosie Dransfeld, 2009]

Posted on by Wade in Everything, Hot Docs, Movies | Leave a comment


A few things about being broke that I have noticed over the past few months

1. You will eat a three-year-old box of Kraft Dinner and you will enjoy it.
2. You will always find money for alcohol.
3. Being home beats the shit out of getting up and going to work.

This movie, BROKE, was really good. It is a Canadian doc about an Edmonton pawnshop owner and the daily running of his business. They filmed it basically by putting a camera and sound guy in the pawnshop and filming what went down.

I found myself laughing out loud several times. The arrogant, rude, yet innocent things that come out of the pawnshop owners’ mouth are priceless. It was enjoyable for several reasons. First, you are interested in the clientele that come into pawnshop. Their stories, their haggling, their various states of intoxication. Priceless. Second, I was interested in the relationship between the Jewish pawnshop owner and his helper friend. Third, there was a narrative arc that brought us full circle. Yes, this movie was pretty spectacular. Great editing and a killer concept will leave you thinking ‘why didn’t I think of this?’

I am giving it a 4.5 out of 5. Why not a 5? Well, because the music was horrible. Imagine a bible thumping after school special from the 1980’s, then imagine music worse than that. Although the music was used sparingly, when it did come on, all I could think was “Who the crap chose this?”

You have one more chance to see Broke. It scored a repeat screening this Sunday night. I suggest you get your ass out and see it.

9:45 Sunday, May 10th – Innis Town Hall *plays with The Man Behind The Log