First, there was the film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" And the film begot a soundtrack. And the soundtrack begot a concert. And the concert begot another film. And that film begot another soundtrack. And so on.
You can't accuse the Coen brothers of neglecting the synergy involved in their use of classic American bluegrass and country music in their recent film. Featuring such performers as bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris
, Alison Krauss
, The Fairfield Four
, Gillian Welch
and David Rawlings
, Chris Thomas King
, Norman Blake
and the late John Hartford
, the soundtrack has become one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. This film -- by the documentary team of Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus
, and D.A. Pennebaker, and executive produced by T-Bone Burnett (the album producer) and the Coen brothers -- documents a concert at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium in May 2000 featuring music from "O Brother". It is playing an exclusive theatrical engagement at New York's Screening Room.
Mixing onstage performances by the various artists with backstage interviews in which they discuss their music and their involvement with "O Brother", "Down From the Mountain", while it offers many stirring musical performances, doesn't stand out either as a concert film or an enlightening documentary. The musical segments are filmed in lackluster style, with little of the flair or excitement of the better concert films ("The Last Waltz", etc.). The backstage sequences are not particularly enlightening, and the interviews lack depth.
Still, the film is valuable if only for its recording of a group of great and sadly unappreciated American musicians who have toiled far too long in relative obscurity. Watching Stanley perform a stark, a cappella version of the mournful "O Death", Hartford comically warble through "Big Rock Candy Mountain" or the Cox Family raising chills with their rendition of "I Am Weary", one is vividly reminded of the utter triviality of most modern-day popular music.
DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN
Cowboy Booking International
Directors:Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus
, D.A. Pennebaker
Executive producers:T-Bone Burnett, Ethan Coen
, Joel Coen
Producers:Bob Neuwirth, Frazer Pennebaker
Cinematographers:Joan Churchill, Jim Desmond, Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus
, Bob Neuwirth
, Jehane Noujaim
, D.A. Pennebaker, John Paul Pennebaker
Editors:Nick Doob, D.A. Pennebaker
Running time -- 98 minutes
No MPAA rating