Wednesday, 3 December 2008
drifters, dreamers and cowboys
Experience all the guitar-strumming, tobacco-chewing, penitentiary-living, whisky-drinking, highway-driving and hell-raising this summer as ACMI presents this incredible selection of new and classic films exploring country music on film.
ACMI is treating Melbourne music lovers to a smorgasbord of country music on film, from the Australian premiere of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (2008) to the late James Szalapski's classic Heartworn Highways (1981). The entire Drifters, Dreamers and Cowboys program is saturated with the seductive and sombre sounds of Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Jim White, Gram Parsons, Guy Clarke and Steve Earle.
ACMIs Head of Film Programs, Richard Sowada describes it as the perfect summer season of films for Melbourne's discerning film and music lovers. "Not only do these works stand alone as excellent documentaries on individual artists and the music scene, but collectively they are a gateway into the poetry and beauty that lies at the heart of country music. In a way, the music becomes the backdrop as we begin to understand these characters and their way of life. They are all beautiful films."
Opening the season is the Australian Premiere of Bestor Crams' visually spectacular Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (2008) documenting Cash's famous 1968 concert at California's Folsom State Prison. It was this live event that helped cement Cash as one of the coolest of all American icons and here that he produced one of America's greatest recordings. Drawing from rare archival footage, stark images by rock photographer Jim Marshall and interviews with June Carter Cash, Rosanne Cash, Jimmy Tittle and many other musicians and Folsom Prison inmates and employees, this new film walks the road that led to the concert that in no small part built the legend of Mr Cash.
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison screens with Simeon Soffer's The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo (30 mins, USA, 2000), an Oscar-nominated short film exploring the infamous annual rodeo that takes place behind the walls of the Angola State Penitentiary.
A favourite amongst country and folk fans is James Szalapski's Heartworn Highways (1981). Become a fly-on-the-wall in the bars, studios and barber shops that represent pure singer-songwriter Country. Steve Earle, Steve Young and more feature in this outstanding and enormously rewarding documentary packed with beautiful postcards; Townes Van Zandt's kitchen performance of 'Waiting Around to Die' is one such moment of crystal purity in this essential work.
Described by David Byrne as "beautiful, dark and weird" Andrew Douglas' documentary Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus (2003) follows alternative country singer songwriter Jim White to the heart of the Deep South where fundamentalist religion, poverty and outlaw activity co-exist. From prisons to Pentecostal churches, Douglas' documentary is as much about the music as it is about the society and landscape that the music comes from. David Byrne describes the film as "an amazing piece of work. The film essentially follows one man, Jim White, as he deals with his own and the South's demons..."
In Margaret Brown's lyrical portrait of an artist, Townes Van Zandt: Be Here to Love Me (2004), Brown goes well under the surface to paint a picture of a true ramblin' man. Be Here to Love Me is haunting in its simplicity and unflinching intimacy as we witness a man at the mercy of what it takes to become a legend. "I wanted the film to feel handmade. Vinyl, not CD. Analogue, not digital". True to her word, this is a work of many hues and enormous integrity. Having successful screenings at international film festivals across the globe including Melbourne Film Festival (2005), Be Here to Love Me returns to screen twice as part of this very special season.
Gandulg Hennig's meticulously compiled documentary Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons (2004) features great live footage, intimate home movies and interviews with the singer/songwriter who has been attributed with forging what is known today as alt. country. A trailblazing cross-over rock/country artist, today Gram Parsons remains one of the coolest of icons from the 1960s and 70s. He was a scene unto himself whose work and influence touched some of the great rock, folk and country musicians of his time including being a member of the International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. A victim of the times, Parsons died tragically at age 26 from a drug overdose. Hennig pays homage to Parsons and his tribute to country music.
There's now another side to Nashville. Meet the musicians, troubadours and raconteurs of a new generation, who have emerged from the rhinestone encrusted commercialisation in Samantha Gibb's A Nashville State of Mind (2008). The featured artists in this film are testament to the fact that songwriting and a passion for music is all it takes to 'kick against the pricks'. Where Billy Ray got it so wrong, this crew have got it right. A must see for any struggling, wannabe or successful musician. There was New York, then there was Seattle and now it's Nashville.
The season closes with the eccentric and fantastic Shakespeare was a Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies (2005). Hanging out with some of country's superstars like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Charlie Pride, and producing some of their greatest music, Jack Clement captured it all in stories and home movies. Mixed with animated sequences and rare footage, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's film provides an honest insight into the country scene over the last four decades. Screens with Prisca Lobjoy's Moonshine Sessions (20 mins, USA, 2007), following French composer Philippe Solal's journey to Nashville to create a truly beautiful album.
Drifters, Dreamers and Cowboys is a particularly exciting season for ACMI with the accompanying Live Shenanigans music component sitting side by side the film program. Melbourne rock n'roll country band Wagons kick off the season on Saturday 27 December at 5.45pm before the Opening Night film. Wagons have toured with Cat Power, M. Ward, Calexico, Bill Callahan and Okkervill River. Other artists to play Live Shenanigans include local favourite Lisa Miller and PBS DJs Lisa Palermo as well as DJs David Thrussell and Kim Walvish.
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