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Lomax the Songhunter (2008)

Alan Lomax , Rogier Kappers  |  PG |  DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Alan Lomax
  • Directors: Rogier Kappers
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Dutch, English, French, German
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Rounder Europe
  • DVD Release Date: January 15, 2008
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0011BE328
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,259 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Alan Lomax (1915-2002) earned a singular place for himself in American culture and arts. Building on the pioneering work of his father, John, whom he accompanied on folk-song recording tours of the American South and Southwest in the 1930s and '40s, Alan set out after World War II to do nothing less than draw the folk music map of the world. Sensing that the world's indigenous music was on the point of being swept away by mass commercial culture, Lomax brought considerable energy and urgency to his awesome task. He also brought an infectious love for the varied homespun musical traditions, especially the songs passed mouth to ear for generations.

When Dutch filmmaker Rogier Kappers set out to make a documentary about Lomax in 2001, he found the once-tireless traveler and talker, having suffered a stroke, in the care of his daughter, Anna, in Florida. Lomax, 86, could no longer make himself understood, though he was delighted to hear his recordings and essays. Kappers had access to experts, friends, and archival footage and recordings. But wanting something essential that might have come from Lomax's own recollections, Kappers decided to add a more offbeat tactic. He retraced some of Lomax's journeys to remote places in pursuit of the vanishing folk song and he found living testimony to the lasting impression Lomax and his bulky tape recorder made some 60 years earlier. Lomax died on July 19, 2002.

Being the son of the man who discovered Leadbelly (in fact, got him out of jail) and who helped introduce Woody Guthrie to the American public might have daunted most men. But Alan Lomax, born in Austin, Texas, inherited his father's determination as well as his passion for folk songs. He joined his father on tours of cotton fields in the South, rock quarries in Oregon and prisons in Louisiana and Texas, where they recorded and wrote down for the first time such American classics as Rock Island Line, John Henry, Home on the Range, and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. These songs were, as Lomax says in archival footage, simply the most beautiful music he'd ever heard. His quest eventually led him to towns and villages in Scotland, Spain and Italy to discover and preserve the folk songs of those regions.

For the Lomaxes the music was beautiful because it was created by ordinary people as part of their everyday lives - songs sung to make the work go smoothly, to entertain one another, to preserve stories, to pass on news, to express popular opinions. Folk music recorded their history and feelings in highly localized, popular language in stark contrast to the pop music made by professionals for mass consumption. It was the shared genius of father and son to use the very instrument, the tape recorder only 50 years old when John Lomax started his work to preserve the old musical life that the new recording industry was wiping out.

Lomax the Songhunter includes interviews with Alan Lomax's friends and colleagues, among them renowned banjo-picker and singer Pete Seeger, who catalogued records for him; Pete's half-sister, singer and activist Peggy Seeger; British folksinger and writer Shirley Collins; and Jean Ritchie, who landed in New York fresh from Kentucky in 1947 and was promptly drafted into recording her family's entire repertoire of folk songs for the Lomax Archive at the Library of Congress. Lomax associates and collaborators such as Peter Kennedy, one of England's leading folklorists; world-renowned ethnomusicologist Henrietta Yurchenco; and Vittorio de Seta, who met Lomax in Italy testify to his intensity, ego, energy and engaging ability to get often-suspicious people to sing into his recorder.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Lomax documentary with a European slant July 12, 2008
This film explores some aspects the life and work of Alan Lomax, the famous conservationist of folk music that seemed on the brink of extinction in the mid-20th century. The film's director Rogier Kappers sought out and filmed Alan Lomax in Florida, but unfortunately he was no longer able to talk as a result of a brain haemorrhage. As his desire to make a documentary on Lomax continued unabated, he decided to follow in his trail in a VW van similar to the one in which Lomax travelled with his recording equipment and pay a visit to surviving singers in some European regions where Lomax had recorded in the 1950s. His travels and meetings in England, the Scottish Hebrides, Spanish Galicia and Italian Calabria produced some surprising encounters with the original singers on the field recordings that have been reissued on CD by Rounder in recent years. The singers with their wavering voices are quite affecting, and some of their performances even kick off a real party in the village. These musical meetings are interspersed with interviews with Lomax' daughter Anna Lomax Wood, friends and collaborators such as English folk song collector Peter Kennedy, singers Pete and Peggy Seeger and a visit to the Library of Congress music archive. Also included are some interesting historical film clips of British and American work songs and archival TV footage of Lomax forcefully and persuasively arguing his views.
As this is a 93-minute film and not an exhaustive biography, certain things are bound to fall by the wayside. I think the Dutch film director made a wise choice to focus on Lomax' relatively unknown European exploits and leave it up to the Americans to provide a thorough examination of the ground-breaking work that Lomax did in the US. (However, I'm still waiting for this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars lomax the songhunter July 27, 2012
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Interesting film filmed in retrospective after Lomax had had a stroke. Interesting footage and interviews with original folk artists that Lomax had recorded. Was good to see the few clips of original footage that were included.
Focuses on a few folk artists in different parts of the world that Lomax had originally recorded long before. .artists of a dying song tradition.
Personally was hoping for more footage of the prison recording sessions made in the southern states penitentiary, but the whole film was interesting and uplifting highlighting the power of music and it's traditional function in labour.
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