Friday, December 18, 2009

Song Catcher - Movie Review

Professor Lily Penleric, PhD, a rigid and repressed scholar teaching in a presumably Ivy League university, is denied a permanent appointment and angrily leaves her married lover on the faculty to live with her sister in the mountains near Asheville, NC. She soon discovers that the local people are a repository of traditional songs, which she begins collecting. She slowly makes inroads into the local culture while encountering suspicion and distrust from the clannish local people. As she lives in the isolated hollers and comes to know the people, they begin to relax and share their rich musical heritage with her. Penleric, played by the handsome Janet McTeer, gradually learns that her preconceptions and urban (as well as urbane) values may not have the same force in the mountains as they did in the narrow and hypocritcal late Victorian world she comes from. As Lily lets her hair down (literally and figuratively) she finds herself increasingly involved and committed. “I have never been anywhere where the music is as much a part of life as it is here,” she says to Tom Bledsoe, played very effectively by Aidan Quinn as they are increasingly drawn to each other.

The tensions between “high” culture and mountain life aren't much different than what those of us who value bluegrass and old-time music encounter among many of our more polite friends. The film explores a range of cultural and behavioral clashes in the early twentieth century with a particularly feminist slant. The story is one worth telling, as it examines relationships and the personal growth of the characters. Perhaps the greatest appeal lies in musical performances of old time music by a number of actors as well as Iris Dement, Hazel Dickens, and a very young Josh Goforth.

 Aidan Quinn and Janet McTeer

“Songcatcher” was directed by Maggie Greenwald and won a special award at the Sundance Film Festival. It's available from Netflix and Amazon.