Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Nashville Film Festival

So, I left work early, scared the shit out of the Professor by honking at her as I sped away from the office, and headed out to watch documentaries all evening. I saw two: Lomax: The Songhunter and Cowboy Jack's Home Movies. The Lomax movie was really weird. On the one hand, I didn't like it because it was this glowing paean to a guy whose legacy isn't as unambiguous as this movie portrays. And there's a lot of bullshit about how record companies have ruined "untainted" folk music by commodifying our cultural productions and selling it back to us. (I don't believe in a clear separation of high culture from low culture, so if some guy in Spain wants to sing the songs his grandpa taught him with an operatic style borrowed from Italy, more power to him. And so I don't believe that record companies, try as they might, can dictate the music that people will love for all time.) On the other hand, I don't really care for Lomax, but the movie made me feel really bad for him, spending the last years of his life fried from strokes and stuck having people read his own articles back to him and making him listen to work he did 50 years before. I don't know. Maybe he enjoyed that. There were some hints that he was kind of a crude asshole and some suggestion that he was a bad dad and a hard man to be married to. Still, you got that he was vital, energetic, committed to filling his days capturing every last bit of music he was convinced was going to be lost. So, seeing him weak and unable to communicate and forced to listen helplessly as he was reminded of his past exploits seemed a little like the movie would have been better titled "Alan Lomax in Hell." Cowboy Jack's Home Movies on the other hand was marvelous. I don't know what to say about it except that you will cry over the Johnny Cash stuff, marvel at how sensual Waylon Jennings was and wonder how you never noticed that before, and you will want to move to Jack's house. He loves Shakespeare and he recites the "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy and he takes Will's words and sets them to music. It's funny and weird and you will love it.


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