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Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007)

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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 375 users   Metascore: 81/100
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Interviews, archival footage and home movies are used to illustrate a social history of folk artist and activist Pete Seeger.

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Ronnie Gilbert ...
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Lee Hays ...
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Storyline

Interviews, archival footage and home movies are used to illustrate a social history of folk artist and activist Pete Seeger.

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Genres:

Documentary | Music

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for some mild thematic material | See all certifications »
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Release Date:

29 April 2007 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$11,945 (USA) (26 October 2007)

Gross:

$175,099 (USA) (22 November 2007)
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1.85 : 1
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User Reviews

 
A moving tribute to an American icon
14 September 2008 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song is a moving tribute to an American icon and to the power of his music to inspire us. Writer and director, Jim Brown, whose 1982 documentary The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time is one of the best films of the 1980s, scores again with his biography of folk singer Pete Seeger, now almost 90. Seeger is famous both as a solo artist and a member of such groups as The Almanac Singers and The Weavers who became a popular success in the 1950s with songs such as "Goodnight Irene", Tzena, Tzena, Tzena", "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", and "So Long, Its Been Good to Know You". Even at the height of The Weavers popularity, however, Seeger never considered himself a commercial artist and even left The Weavers at one time because they appeared in a cigarette commercial.

The film includes some very moving concert footage in both large and small venues as well as interviews with such folk music legends as Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Mary Travers and Bob Dylan. It is Dylan who opens the film by asserting that he has never met another performer who is as skilled in encouraging an audience to participate. The documentary, however, is more than just good music and talking heads. Brown allows Seeger to tell his own story in his down-to-earth, plain spoken manner, and he reminisces about his life, at one time describing how a concert by Paul Robeson in Peekskill, New York in the 1940s turned into a life threatening riot. Pete also introduces us to his family including brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren and especially Toshi, his devoted wife of sixty two years who supported him throughout the years by raising the children while he was pursuing his career.

Both strong environmentalists, Pete built his log cabin in Beacon, New York with the help of family and friends and he continues to work the land today; chopping wood and hauling water. Seeger's story, however, is not just about folk music, but is about his passion for social justice and his political involvement with left-wing groups. A graduate of ivy-league schools, Seeger was first attracted to politics while in college. He joined the Communist Party in the thirties when millions also turned to the Party to provide answers to the deepening depression (he left it in the fifties). His rationale for joining the CP is understandable if a bit thin, saying that, like him, they supported unions, were against Jim Crow, and stood for peace. His association with the CP was to haunt him in later years, however, and visits to Russia and North Vietnam alienated many of his supporters. It was his invoking the First Amendment before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s, however, that resulted in his being blacklisted on television for 17 years.

Unable to earn a living, he sang to young grade school students and in colleges and universities until the blacklist was broken by the Smothers Brothers who invited Pete to sing on their weekly show. After a long battle with CBS, he was allowed to sing his anti-Vietnam War song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", not one of his best efforts. Working with Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress and singers Woody Guthrie and Hudie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) Pete traveled the country and the world collecting material, returning to America to promote its musical heritage and sparking the folk music revival of the 1960s with such songs as "Turn, Turn, Turn", "The Hammer Song", "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", "Wimoweh", and the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome", a song which inspired Martin Luther King.

Honored by the Kennedy Center for outstanding musical achievement, music and justice are Seeger's passion. He says that music should not be used just to forget our troubles, but to help us to understand and do something about them and he has popularized union songs, freedom songs, songs about workers, songs about justice, as well as Woody Guthrie's indelible hymn to America, "This Land is Your Land". Seeger has also been active on issues of the environment and his decade-long campaign to clean up the polluted Hudson River produced remarkable results, even though many said it was impossible. Pete Seeger: The Power of Song can be accused of being hagiography, but it is a long overdue tribute to a man who contributed so much to the quality of our lives and who suffered greatly for his political beliefs.


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