Thursday, May 11, 2017

Festival (1967)

Festival. Folk Music at Newport 1963–1966. US © 1966 [tbc] Patchke Productions. Year of release: 1967. Original distributor: Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises. P+D: Murray Lerner. CIN: Francis Grumman, Murray Lerner, Stanley Meredith, George Pickow – 35 mm – 1,37:1 – b&w. Print by Movielab. S: Arthur Bloom, John Gibbs, Jack C. Jacobson, Mike Scott, Ben Sobin. ED: Howard Alk – associate editors: Alan Heim, Michael Marantz, Gordon Quinn. Production assistants: Jones Alk, John Craddock, Harvey Kopel, Judith Lerner, Barbara Scott.
    Loc: Newport (Rhode Island), 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966.
    New York premiere: 23.10.1967. Telecast in Finland: 1973 [tbc] – versions: 98, 85 min – DFI 90 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 11 May 2017

The following track listing from the BFI Database is remarkably accurate (I have added some formal titles next to informal ones). Tracks not on the print viewed are in [square brackets]. Additions of mine are in {braces}.

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band: “Hannah”
Peter, Paul and Mary: ”Come and Go With Me (Great Day in the Morning)”
Peter, Paul and Mary: ”If I Had a Hammer”
The Sacred Harp Singers: ”Rocky Road”
The Georgia Sea Island Singers: Traditional spiritual
Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers: Clog dance
[Tex Logan & the Lilly Brothers: ”Black Mountain Rag”]
Pete Seeger: ”Green Corn”
Buffy St. Marie: ”Codeine, and It’s Real”
Spider John Koerner: Traditional blues
Pete Seeger: ”Deep Blue Sea”
Odetta: ”Lordy Lordy”
Joan Baez & Peter Yarrow: ”Go Tell Aunt Rhody”
Joan Baez: ”Mary Hamilton”
Bob Dylan: ”Mr. Tambourine Man”
Bob Dylan: ”All I Really Want to Do”
{Joan Baez: humming ”From Me to You”}
Joan Baez: ”All My Trials”
[Peter, Paul and Mary: ”Blowin’ in the Wind”]
Donovan: ”The War Drags On”
Judy Collins: ”Turn, Turn, Turn”
Donovan: ”Ballad of a Crystal Man (Vietnam, Your Latest Game)”
Odetta: ”Just Can’t Keep from Crying”
Peter, Paul and Mary: ”Times They Are A’Changing”
Joan Baez & Donovan: ”Colours”
Fred McDowell: ”Highway 61”
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: ”Key to the Highway”
Mississippi John Hurt: ”Candy Man”
Old Lady & Old Man: A cappella traditional folk songs {two separate tracks}
Bob Dylan with the Butterfield Blues Band: ”Maggie's Farm”
Ed Young Fife & Drums Corps: Instrumental
Swan Silvertones: ”Feed Me Jesus”
The Staple Singers: ”Help Me Jesus”
The Freedom Singers: Traditional spiritual
The Freedom Singers: ”Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn me Round”
Fannie Lou Hamer: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”
The Freedom Singers: Traditional spiritual
Freedom Group Finale: ”We Shall Overcome”
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: ”Born in Chicago”
Son House: ”Son House Blues” {I believe there are two different blues tracks in the Son House section}
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Instrumental
Howlin’ Wolf: ”Howlin' for My Darling”
Mimi & Richard Fariña: {probably not from “Pack Up Your Sorrows”}
Mimi & Richard Fariña: “Pack Up Your Sorrows”
Spokes Mashiyane: Flute instrumental
Cousin Emmy: Cheek slapping {”Turkey in the Straw”}
Theodore Bikel: Russian folk song
Judy Collins: ”Anathea”
Johnny Cash: ”I Walk the Line”
Osborne Brothers: ”Ruby”
Joan Baez: ”Farewell Angelina”
Bob Dylan: ”Mr. Tambourine Man”
Group Finale: ”Down by the Riverside”

Also featuring (BFI Database): Horton Barker, Fiddler Beers, Mike Bloomfield, Richard Farina, Ronnie Gilbert, Ollie Gilbert, The Lilly Brothers, Mel Lyman, Pappy Clayton McMichen, Moving Star Hall Singers, Joe Patterson, Almeda Riddle, Eck Robertson, Mike Seeger, General Watson, Reverend Wilkins.

Wikipedia: "The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman."

AA: I saw for the first time Murray Lerner's Festival (1967), one of the greatest documentary films on popular music, the first great counter-cultural music festival film, a predecessor and model for Monterey Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970).

Festival itself had distinguished predecessors. The first great rock and R&B concert film was T.A.M.I. Show (1964), shot in Santa Monica. I have never seen an integral version of that fantastic movie, only torsos and fragments of it. And of course Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), the classic documentary of the Newport Jazz Festival, shot in colour by Bert Stern.

Festival is in black and white. It starts in medias res with Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band at "Hannah" before the opening credits. An atmosphere of spontaneity is introduced at once. Improvisation and ad lib remarks are welcome. There are many interviews and comments in this film. Although this is a music festival, verbal discourse is equally important. Newport has a special audience who listens to the song lyrics attentively. Murray Lerner incorporates memorable long takes of the arrival of the festival audience, and faces of people listening to the artists. There is a sense of a real communication here.

There are more than 50 music tracks in the movie.

It is a delight to hear Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Buffy St. Marie, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Donovan at their best here. We witness a progress from folk music to protest song in Donovan's "Vietnam, Your Latest Game", which "BBC said I could not sing".

Bob Dylan is prominent not only in his own performances but also in the interpretations of others: Peter, Paul and Mary offer their interpretation of "Times They Are A'Changing". Joan Baez sings "Farewell Angelina". Murray Lerner documents Dylan's transition to the electric guitar in "Maggie's Farm" with the Butterfield Blues Band. In this film the reaction to the legendary performance is underplayed. There is a little booing, but mostly the response is enthusiastic.

The blues section is electrifying with Fred McDowell, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Mississippi John Hurt. There is a dialogue between Son House and Paul Butterfield who confesses that he has no background to be a blues singer, yet he, too, feels the blues inside. The authority figure in the blues department is none other than Howling Wolf, in a stunning performance with his band and guitarist who sounds like Hubert Sumlin. There is a torrent of rain after his performance. "Lord have mercy".

The spiritual section is engrossing, in perfect contrast to the blues element. The Freedom Singers from Georgia bring a lot of passion to the film, and standards such as "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "We Shall Overcome" carry a lot of weight in these performances from the 1960s.

Many currents of the concerts come together in the grand finale group performance of "Down by the Riverside".

I love the combination of passion, intellect, and freedom in these concerts and this film. Like in Jazz on a Summer's Day the summer wind is an essential element in the atmosphere.

The flawless 35 mm film print does justice to the excellent documentary cinematography. There are moments with a slightly low contrast look which make me think that this may originally have been a television print but those moments do not hamper a beautiful film experience.


Murray Lerner filmasi Rhode Islandilla neljänä vuonna Festivalia, josta tuli ensimmäinen suuri vastakulttuurinen musiikkifestivaalielokuva, Monterey Popin (1968) ja Woodstockin (1970) edelläkävijä. Se kattaa Newport Folk Music Festivalilla vaiheen, jolloin folk muuttui rockiksi, akustiset esitykset vaihtuivat sähköisiksi ja yhteiskunnallinen tietoisuus radikalisoitui. Esiintyjien kirjo on laaja Jim Kweskinistä Paul Butterfieldiin, Judy Collinsista Howlin’ Wolfiin ja Peter, Paul and Marysta Mississippi John Hurtiin. Bob Dylanin legendaarinen tarttuminen sähkökitaraan ”Maggie’s Farmissa” sivuutetaan kuin ohimennen. Yleisö osallistuu intensiivisesti, satoi tai paistoi. Esitysten lomassa on teräviä haastattelukommentteja. Elokuvasta on erilaisia versioita, eikä esiintyjä- ja kappalelista päde kaikkiin.

Antti Alanen 11.5.2017

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