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SONGCATCHER

SYNOPSIS:
In 1907, Dr Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) has been passed over again for full Professorship despite her achievements in the field of musicology. Upset at her rejection she travels to the Appalachians where her sister, Elna (Jane Adams), teaches at a struggling school. While there, Lily stumbles across a significant musical discovery - Irish-Scots ballads that have been passed intact from generation to generation. After overcoming sceptical locals Lily begins recording their songs on wax cylinders while also becoming involved in the mountain people's struggles to preserve their homes and traditions in the face of industrialisation. She also becomes involved with musician Tom Bledsoe (Aidan Quinn) who initially accuses Lily of exploiting his people.

"Music has always been a powerful communicator, describing emotions as universal as love and grief, or telling everyday stories that reflect culture and lifestyle. At first glance, Songcatcher may just seem to be a picturesque film - enjoyable yes - with questionable consequence. But if you look closer, you will discover a far deeper significance. Picturesque indeed it is. In fact the cinematography of the rarely seen majestic mountains of Madison County is quite breathtaking. This rustic, rural part of America and one of the contemporary homes of traditional Appalachian culture has a personality of its own, and the mood captured by the isolation and simplicity of the characters plays an important role. Maggie Greenwald has created a gentle, intelligent film that belies a rich undercurrent of time and place, while stimulating our musical sensitivities. Greenwald collaborates with her husband (acclaimed composer David Mansfield), and music is indeed a key character, showcasing some of the early origins of what evolved into the blues and American country music. In this respect it reminded me a little of the purity exemplified by the voice in the documentary about throat singing, Genghis Blues. Songcatcher begins as a journey to collect songs, using the ultimate instrument the voice. And beautiful voices we hear rich, natural voices unencumbered by the spoils of society and the restraints of self-consciousness. There's no orchestra swelling as the actors burst into song here the music is spontaneous, often a cappella or accompanied by banjo or piano. Janet McTeer is perfectly cast as the repressed, spinsterly songcatcher disillusioned with life both professionally and personally. She displays the perfect balance of the obsessed musicologist, while revealing her vulnerable feminine side. Aidan Quinn is warmly open as the outspoken mountain man who catches Lily's heart instead of her song, with Emmy Rossum and Pat Carroll wonderful scene stealers. The songs themselves as they are performed simply and with a naturalness of delivery evoke some of the film's best moments. Catch a breath of fresh air Songcatcher is a cinematic symphony."
Louise Keller

"Until it runs off on some less rewarding tangents about two-thirds of the way through, this trek into Deliverance territory, 1907, is a fascinating and appealing drama. Songcatcher announces its intentions in an early scene in which Dr Lily Penleric tells her students "you must learn to appreciate not only the sociological importance of music but its emotional meaning as well". That's exactly what her journey into the rugged beauty of the Appalachians is about in Maggie Greenwald's entertaining mix of music and mountain ways. Like her impressive 1994 feature The Ballad Of Little Joe, Greenwald offers a vibrant portrayal of a woman struggling against the dual forces of male domination and nature. Many of the strongest scenes in Songcatcher revolve around Lily's determination to be recognised for her work and to not be defeated by the terrain or the suspicions of hillbillys whose land is under threat from a coal mining company anxious to dig beneath their shacks. There are many uplifting moments as, Fitzcarraldo-like, Lily hauls her Edison wax cylinder up mountainsides to record the songs now known as American roots music. This alone would have been enough to sustain a feature but Greenwald expands the story with a myriad of sub-plots including the then-illicit relationship between Lily's sister Elna and co-teacher Harriet (E. KatherineKerr) and a romance involving Lily and stubborn mountain man, Tom (Aidan Quinn). Unfortunately she can't quite juggle everything successfully and some abrupt plot twists and shifts in focus dilute the overall impact. It's a minor quibble in the end because there is so much here to enjoy, not the least of which is a clutch of wonderful songs and a marvellous performance from Pat Carroll as Tom's shotgun-wielding grandma Viney, whose ripe turn makes Marjorie Main's Ma Kettle a society hostess by comparison. Songcatcher covers unusual ground in an energetic and thoroughly entertaining manner which makes a visit to these backwoods a rewarding one."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

SONGCATCHER (M)
(US)

CAST: Janet McTeer, Mike Harding, Aidan Quinn, Pat Carroll

DIRECTOR: Maggie Greenwald

PRODUCER: Ellen Rigas Venetis, Richard Miller

SCRIPT: Maggie Greenwald

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Enrique Chediak

EDITOR: Keith Reamer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ginger Tougas

MUSIC: David Mansfield

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Entertainment

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 1, 2001

VIDEO RELEASE: October 17, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Home Entertainment







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