Down Home Music

Down Home Music

A Journey Through the Heartland 1963

DVD - 2010
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In 1963, German filmmaker Dietrich Wawzyn hired Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz to take him on a musical tour of America. He produced three films, dealing with blues, gospel, and hillbilly music, but the negatives were lost. This film reconstructs the journey, from the best elements still available. Includes an optional running commentary by Chris Strachwitz.
Publisher: El Cerrito, CA : Arhoolie Foundation, [2010]
Copyright Date: ©2010
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (75 min.) : sound, black and white ; 4 3/4 in.


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Nov 17, 2014

Anyone with broad musical tastes and an interest in cultural history will find Down Home Music delightful. In 1963, German filmmaker Dietrich Wawzyn travelled the American southwest and south, from San Francisco to Concord, North Carolina, in search of jazz musicians. In this surviving film footage, we see that he found not only jazz artists but folk-revival, traditional First Nations, conjuncto, Cajun, country, "hillbilly", stringband, and, especially, African-American blues and gospel singers and musicians. Although a couple of scenes seem set up, Wawzyn usually filmed in the contexts in which the musicians would normally perform. We travel with him into seedy bars, gospel halls, and revival tents; onto front porches and into homes; through streets, farmyards, and pueblo villages; and into the well-know concert venues of Preservation Hall and The Grand Old Opry. In one memorable scene, we accompany a jazz funeral through the streets of New Orleans.

Although a few recording artists of varying popularity (e.g., Barbara Dane, Lightnin' Hopkins, Red Sovine, Lowell Fulsom, and Emma Barrett) appear in this movie, most of the singers and musicians are lesser known, usually performing in their own communities or for their own cultural groups. Without this DVD, few Canadians would ever hear most of the performers. We learn here that the USA had its own "king" ––not Elvis –– with perhaps a million followers. Especially enjoyable for those of us in this bureaucratic city in which buskers are hampered by licensing restrictions and law enforcement, is the variety of entertainment available on the streets of the southern cities. One gets the sense that –- in 1963 at least –– the streets there belonged to the people.

The film quality is not great, but I cannot think of a documentary providing such a variety of American music in proper contextual settings. Half a century later, similar musical performances still happen outside the American mainstream. Watching this DVD, helps one grasp the complexity of our neighbouring nation.

Starling16 Dec 16, 2013

Quite riveting in spots. An America that possibly doesn't exist anymore. There's little commentary, just goes from one scene/part of the country to the other, which makes it more engrossing.

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