It's part of the alchemy of pop culture, an inexplicable part of the wonder and the oddness: One person's obsession can become part of the culture for thousands, millions of people. There's the old joke that only 200 people actually bought the first Velvet Underground record -- but that all of them went out and started a band. So it is with Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Smith was a dabbler, a searcher, a packrat of cultural influences -- and collected a treasure trove of old '78s that contained recording of classical American folk songs; in 1952, Folkways Records released a compilation of songs from Smith's personal archives -- and the resulting 1960's folk explosion that gave American pop music a previously unseen type of craft and depth sprung in no small part from Smith's personal record collection. ...

Director Rani Singh knows this story; she spent two years as Smith's assistant from 1989 to his death in 1991. The Old Weird America is a bit of a mix of things -- it chronicles Smiths' life and times, the Anthology he created, his work outside the Anthology as a filmmaker and writer. The film also includes concert performances from a series of shows where modern performers played the music of the Anthology, so you hear Elvis Costello singing decades-old murder ballads and Beth Orton's distinctive voice wrapping itself sinuously around a piece of music that's come down through the years.
categories Reviews, Cinematical