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The raw filmic memoir of a recent divorcee struggling to re-invent himself amidst the comparatively young social scene of a new town to the point of becoming, at least by his own perception, an object of curiosity.
With the help of her mother, family, friends, and fellow musicians, Aiyana Elliott reaches for her father, legendary cowboy troubadour, Ramblin' Jack Elliott. She explores who he is and how he got there, working back and forth between archival and contemporary footage. Born in 1932 in Brooklyn, busking through the South and West in the early 50s, a year with Woody Guthrie, six years flatpicking in Europe, a triumphant return to Greenwich Village in the early 60s, mentoring Bob Dylan, then life on the road, from gig to gig, singing and telling stories. A Grammy and the National Medal of Arts await Jack near the end of a long trail. What will Aiyana find for herself? Written by
One of the most entertaining and informative documentaries to come around in a long while, "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack" is also one of the most moving. An important episode of American musical history is beautifully detailed in this extraordinarily well-produced work, and no one with a serious interest in the development of popular music in the 20th century should miss it.
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, born Elliott Adnopoz, is perhaps THE pivotal figure in the popularization of authentic American folk music. He formed a kind of link between the accomplishments of Woody Guthrie and those of Bob Dylan and his followers. Long before Dylan's famous pilgrimage to New York and the bedside of the terminally ill Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack had formed a close friendship and musical alliance with the great balladeer. Elliott's dedication to the preservation of the Guthrie legacy kept the music alive through recordings and live performances around the country. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest guardians of the folk tradition, performing authentic material, the works of Guthrie, and some original songs in an unadorned style, but with more personality than, say, Pete Seeger. In the thriving folk music scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Elliott was a cult figure whose every appearance was noteworthy. Then, somewhere in the mid-sixties, the rise of Dylan so overshadowed Elliott and others in the field, that he has been virtually forgotten by all but music historians.
As the film progresses, it seems impossible to avoid a growing respect for Elliott's contribution and talent. His voice, like Guthrie's and Dylan's, does not adhere to conventional ideals of beauty, but it has a definite appeal. A superb singer, Elliott's uncomplicated and always musical performances are models of their kind. His rise as a truly gifted figure, imitated by many (including Dylan, as the film clearly demonstrates) is powerfully contrasted with a descent into near oblivion. The documentary gives both high and low points their due. Included are interview excerpts with Elliott associates such as Pete Seeger, Dave van Ronk, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, and two of the singer's three ex-wives.
Ramblin' Jack's daughter, Aiyana Elliott, has put together an immensely successful documentation of her father's life and career. We see footage from childhood play in the 1930s through the singer's ascent into the folk music hierarchy: recording contracts, continuous live dates, friendships with Seeger and Dylan, network television appearances. Artfully interspersed with the career narrative is the tale of Elliott's personal life, or what anyone can know of that life, so that this film is both an artist's biography and a daughter's search for the man her father really is. If the musical life is fascinatingly detailed, the fragmented relationship between parent and child is treated with only a bit less scrutiny. The viewer comes away with an understanding of an important career and period, and with a strong awareness of the humans who lived it.
This is a top-notch musical bio-documentary, and a must-see for American music fans.
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