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After being denied a promotion at the university where she teaches, Doctor Lily Penleric, a brilliant musicologist, impulsively visits her sister, who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There she stumbles upon the discovery of her life - a treasure trove of ancient Scots-Irish ballads, songs that have been handed down from generation to generation, preserved intact by the seclusion of the mountains. With the goal of securing her promotion, Lily ventures into the most isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs and finds herself increasingly enchanted - not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions. It is not, however, until she meets Tom - a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician - that she's forced to examine her motivations. Is the "Songcatcher," as Tom insists, no better than the men who exploit the people and extort their ... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Songcatcher is a film that shows the side of the mountain people that has been unknown for years. It's kind of like an indie, female version of Oh Brother Where Art Thou, but with a feminist touch and more and better music. The film is very enjoyable with some exceptional acting particularly in the case of Janet McTeer, Aidan Quinn and Emmy Rossum and features some lovely and moving renditions of classic ballads. Maggie Greenwald (The Ballad of Little Jo, for which she wrote and directed) is also both the director and writer of Songcatcher and she has done a fabulous job. The film's focus is on musicologist Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) in the early 1900s who has just been passed over for a permanent teaching position for the second time. She becomes embittered and decides to leave the school and go to the mountains to visit her sister (Jane Adams) at her school in the mountains of North Carolina. There she learns, to her delight, that many of the old Irish/Scottish ballads have been preserved in their original form, after hearing them sung by her sister's warden Deladis Slocumb (the always delightful Emmy Rossum). After hearing Deladis sing these ballads Lily becomes obsessed with collecting and publishing the songs. With the help of Deladis and her boyfriend Fate Honeycutt (don't you just love these names) Lily goes around the mountain collecting songs. One of her first stops is at incorrigible Viney Butler (Pat Carroll). While she's there Lily meets Viney's grandson Tom Bledsoe (a nearly unrecognizable Aidan Quinn).
The two clash at first but they eventually become, no surprise, romantically involved. Along the way we also meet Lily's antagonist Earl Giddens (David Patrick Kelly) who's has been 'educated' down the mountain and wants to turn the mountain in a coal mine. While collecting the songs, Lily slowly begins to crack from her shell and she learns to love the people of the mountain. The photography in the film is spectacular. It's vibrant and bright with some terrific shots of the wizardly Carolina Mountains. Maggie Greenwald brings the beauty of the mountains out with long-range shots at sunset. As I stated earlier the acting in this film is superb so there are no complaints from me. Lily Penleric was played perfectly by Janet McTeer who seems to be able to convey so much emotion through her eyes. Tom Bledsoe was such a different character than I had ever seen Aidan Quinn play before and it was quite refreshing. He was great as a grumbling, dirty yet somehow attractive mountain man. And Emmy Rossum, in her feature film debut, gives a stunning performance as the angelic voiced ward.
The music in the film is probably it's best asset. Greenwald had actual singers and musicians play the musical parts. Iris Dement and Taj Mahal were just two of the musicians in this film and they added an authenticity to the film. All the songs in this movie were amazing and as soon as I saw this film I went out and bought the soundtrack. The only problems I had with the film are that the plot sometimes seemed a little forced, a little contrived and that there were too many subplots. There were probably in total about seven or eight different plot lines weaved in and out throughout the film. In some films this might work but Greenwald doesn't quite pull it off. The lesbian subplot was not needed at all. It actually took away from the authenticity of the film and didn't seem to fit in with the time period, which was the late Victorian era. Overall I would definitely recommend this movie, especially to those that really enjoyed movies like Oh Brother Where Art Thou. This film captivates the beauty of the Carolina Mountains and shows what the music of the mountains is really like.
"Your music is like the air you breathe" Lily Penleric, Songcatcher
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