On My Screen No. 3 | Greenwich in the 60s

Cover image for the film “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation”.

When Greenwich Was the Rage: The Greenwich Village of the 1960s was the centerpiece of the American musical renaissance that saw artists as varied as Pete Seeger, Sonny Ochs, Jose Feliciano, The Chapin Sisters, Kris Kristofferson, Richie Havens, Bob Dylan and many others play in places with names like The Bitter End, Cafe Wha? and shape the era. You can currently watch a documentary called “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation” on Netflix. It’s a decent documentary, that begins with a tough enough task, which is to give a good idea of what the area and time period was like. Most of the Greenwich crowd began with covers of early tracks from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. But Greenwich artists began to blossom, showcasing a talent for writing their own music, and this documentary suggests it’s the beginning of the American singer-songwriter tradition. That’s just one point the documentary tries to take on, including the area’s influence on civil rights, and in protesting the Vietnam War. However, in some way, it also inadvertently helps to shed light on why so many of these artists songs never quite had the appeal that made Dylan the greatest songwriter on the planet. Where his songs seemed more timeless, much of the music remained within the protest tradition or felt trapped by the past. For my tastes, Greenwich led to Dylan, Joni Mitchell — and then everyone else. It’s a fun trip back in time, that highlights a couple of gems, like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Andy Williams singing Bukka White’s “Fixin’ To Die” and Mitchell’s “Night In the City”. But clearly, songs like Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” stand the test of time better than Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds” or Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots”. And unless I missed the mention of them, where was the part that talked about Joan Baez or Dave Van Ronk?

• Also new on Netflix: There’s “Adore” (which I originally watched when it was called “Two Mothers”) featuring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts, in a story about two best friends living in an idyllic ocean setting, who find love in each other’s young sons. Yes, it sounds like a shaky and perhaps gross premise, but I suppose there could be some revelatory moments, for those that get caught up in the melodrama, buying that some kind of “real love” was discovered in this fashion. However, overall I found the film too trite, and not up to par with the Doris Lessing novella it was based on. You’re probably better off watching “Berberian Sound Studio”, director Peter Strickland’s film about a sound engineer who agrees to work on a horror film crafted by an Italian filmmaker, only to discover the blurring of reality and fiction.

Cover for Milestone’s 2007 DVD release of “Killer of Sheep”. You can hear a podcast about the film thanks to Errata.

• Podcasts | An American Classic: Also, be sure to check out the Errata Movie Podcast all about Charles Burnett’s debut feature “Killer of Sheep” (1977) — a film about the life of an African-American man named Stan who works at a slaughterhouse in Watts, Los Angeles. The film languished in obscurity for nearly 30 years because Burnett was unable to pay to secure rights to the music within it.

• Releases | Critical Glance: Jonathan Rosenbaum is perhaps my favorite film critic, largely for his vast interest in writing about non-popular film. Read about some cool releases he’s written about for the magazine Cinema Scope — and note he too had some issues with the Greenwich Village film documentary, one complaint similar to my own. I couldn’t agree with him more about the mastery of Criterion’s “3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman” and the two Eureka/MOC Douglas Sirk releases, which have been out some time on DVD and were finally put on blu-ray late last year. I happily own the DVD version of “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” (1958) and the BD of “The Tarnished Angels” (a 1958 film based loosely on William Faulkner’s 1935 novel “Pylon”) — without complaint. In the latter, actress Dorothy Malone (who never looked better), acts as skillfully as she did two years earlier in perhaps Sirk’s best picture, “Written On the Wind” (1956).

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