Wednesday, 8 April 2020

ON SBS - Barrie Pattison comes across Ken Burns documentary series COUNTRY MUSIC (USA, 2019)

Ken Burns (and Lynn Novick)
I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ Country Music series on S.B.S. Hard to find a topic I’m less interested in - well he did do baseball - but Burns' craft is extraordinary. I rate his WW2 The War as the best non-fiction film I ever encountered, edging out Cousteau’s Aswan Dam movie, Kevin Brownlow’s Unknown Chaplin and Project 20 :The Great War.Imagine my glee when I found the box set in Paris for five bucks. It was only later when I realised it was the French version, where Phillipe Torreton’s narration replaces Peter Coyote, that disillusion set in. I made a European chum’s day with that one.

Country Music I don’t rate as Burns best work though his treatment of Kris Kristofferson is exceptional.  (“All the words was already in the dictionary but it was Kris who found the order to put them in”.) Curiously Burns almost never draws on his subjects’ Hollywood work. Dolly Parton does get a brief Nine to Five clip in the episode largely devoted to her.

Roy Acuff
Roy Acuff proves to be the Grand Ole Man of Country which doesn’t go with the oblivion that has engulfed his movies. I always remembered the 1944 Smokey Mountain Melody, which is not a particularly good film. (It’s directed by Ray Nazzaro for Crissake!) However, the thing that makes it conspicuous is the way Acuff’s presence has been allowed to invade the B movie western format. Roy is appointed to take control of the ranch, arousing the resentment of all the cowboys who take a dim view of him letting migratory workers camp on the range, tearing down electric fences and attending to ailing steers, along with having the Smoky Mountain Boys strike up a tune at barn dances.

Ill feeling boils over when he gets into a punch up with Big Boy Williams who thumps the tar out of Roy. Our fiddle playin’ hero just keeps on getting up and coming back for more till Big Boy becomes ashamed and lets him do things his own way. A cowpoke comments “I reckon Acuff won that fight”. This scene runs so totally contrary to the ethos of B movie action movies that it stays with me where hundreds (thousands?) of other examples have faded from memory.

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