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Author Topic: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie  (Read 6480 times)

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Offline waxwing

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Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« on: August 26, 2007, 02:49:51 AM »
Just got home from seeing this totally enjoyable movie. Enjoyable from many angles.

First time flmmaker Todd Kwait tells his personal story from his first knowledge, in the '90s, of Gus Cannon, learned from his teen idol, John Sebastion, through his enjoyably obsessive quest of everything he could learn about Gus Cannon and the jug band scene of the '20s.

Along the way he also learns a great deal about the jug band revivalists of the '60s and we hear their own stories and passions about the music in many interviews and performances. I was sitting directly behind Jim Kweskin, with his wife and Geoff Muldaur to his right, Chris Strachwitz to his left, Maria Muldaur in front of Chris. I tried to catch a glimpse of Geoff's face at particularly intense moments (the film was dedicated to Fritz Richmond, of whom there was much footage) and often caught him glancing at Jim with a grin or a knowing look. One high point was some footage of a very young Fritz saying '"Well, if you looked at me, you might think I was a freak. Well maybe I am, maybe not. But if I pick up a jug and start blowing into it, you KNOW I'm a freak." Geoff shouted "Yeah" to the heavens and turned to Jim saying, "That's it!"

We feel Todd's enthusiasm when his idol, John Sebastion, expresses his interest in getting involved in the process and they meet in Greenwich Village. We follow him as he travels to various sites in the jug band past, looking (unsuccessfully) for Noah Lewis' grave, poking around a shack where Lewis lived for his later years and touring the ruins of Minglewood, the ghost of a mill town on the river near Memphis. Footage of discovering Gus Cannon's grave was provided by Delmark Goldfarb, who was also interviewed. I met Delmark last year at the Portland Waterfront Blues Fest, where he had set up the Fritz Tribute that the Hohoppas played in, and we were talking with others outside the theatre before the show, when Kweskin and Muldaur pulled up in taxis and joined the discussion.

Todd also looks for the future of jug band music, first by following John, Jim and Geoff to the Yokahama Jug Fest, where some very intense performances in Japanese are seen, including a group dressed in chefs outfits, the Southern Chefs, playing Banjolere(?), with about 4 banjos and 3 jugs. Those folks are very into this music and the audiences were young and mostly women it seemed. Second, by interviewing the members of the Sankofa Strings (now the Carolina Chocolate Drops).

It was a good choice to follow his own path of discovery as it kept the narrative personal and made it more than a straight documentary. It also made it alright that the movie didn't try to cover every aspect of the early scene (for instance the MJB was only covered briefly) because Todd was following his own muse. For me, there was more to be learned about the '60s than the '20s but I'm sure many will learn a lot about both eras.

Some of the '60s footage was just too much! Sebastian on autoharp leading the Loving Spoonfull doing Jug Band Music, early footage of the Kweskin band featuring the enigmatic Mel Lyman singing on one song (damn, I can't remember the song now) and the young and lovely Maria Muldaur singing another. Heck, they were all so young. As usual, there wasn't time to present whole songs, and I was left wondering where I could get ahold of the full length footage. (Todd?)

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and the event, except for one small issue: I'm sensitive to jiggly camera work and there were stretches of hand held footage, which gave much of the road trips and backstage footage a nice "home movie" feel, but left me feeling a little nauseous. A minor note and something that probably doesn't effect most.

Some of our PT friends had cameos as interviewees or performers: Paul Rachel and Annie Raines, Maria, of course, and David Evans sang a jug band song, with a harp player, sitting in the Mississippi woods.

As I said, the film was dedicated to Fritz Richmond and there was much footage of him performing on jug and washtub as well as some very touching footage of him in the latter stages of the cancer that took him, culminating in a poignant moment saying that someone else was going to have to take up the task of carrying jug band music forward 'cause he'd gone as far as he could. Whew.

A must see for anyone interested in this music!

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2007, 09:03:32 AM »
Thanks for the great review, Wax. Sounds fabulous. Was there any mention of when and what the wider release would be? I guess this one may be hard to catch in theatres.

Were there any live performances? Did you wear your rack?  :P


Offline waxwing

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2007, 09:15:58 AM »
None at the theatre, but I caught a few of the jug bands at the SF Jugfest at Golden Gate Park in the morning. Unfortunately/fortunately I was scheduled to be in the studio editing my CD from 2 to 6 so I missed most of the fest. I'll be at the show at Great American Musical Hall tonight with Kweskin, Muldaur, Sebastian, Grisman and Fritz's old band the Barbecue Orchestra. I think Maria is showing up after a different gig, and I thought I heard someone say that Dan Hicks might be there, too. He was at the first showing of the film last night, but I didn't see him coming out as we went in.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

http://www.youtube.com/user/WaxwingJohn
https://www.facebook.com/WaxwingJohn

Willie Brown's Liquor at CD Baby

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2007, 10:08:51 AM »
And just in case people missed the original link in another thread, here's the website for the film, with trailer and photos.

http://www.chasingusghost.com/


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2010, 10:59:00 AM »
Looks like this will be coming out on DVD:

Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin are doing a show in Chicago at the Old Town School of Folk Music http://www.oldtownschool.org/concerts/2010/6/26_kweskin.html - and this is also a DVD release party for the film.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2010, 07:16:53 AM »
This is now available on DVD:

http://chasingusghost.com/2010/05/20/chasin-gus-ghost-available-on-dvd/

There's also a CD of the performers in the film, called Jug Band Extravaganza.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2010, 08:29:58 AM »
Hi all,
I found this documentary very frustrating to watch.  It spent way too much time for my taste on the director's introduction to jug band music, via the Lovin' Spoonful and others, and more tellingly, not once, in the entire length of the film showed a musical performance from beginning to end, without cutting away, switching to voice-overs, etc.  For a documentary purportedly focusing on music, this second aspect is a serious indictment, particularly when you consider some of the performances they had footage of, like Yank Rachell doing a homecoming performance in Brownsville, Tennessee with an all-star backing band, or Geoff Muldaur singing a beautiful tribute song to Fritz Richmond, the dedicatee of the movie.  Why in the world not show an entire song?  This seems to show a lack of trust that the music itself is interesting enough to carry the film.  Taken in sum, I thought "Chasin' Gus' Ghost" was pretty mediocre.
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2010, 09:02:56 AM »
Hi John - I haven't seen the film but what you describe seems to me to be the fatal flaw of the majority of music-centred documentaries: an inability to let the music speak for itself. Drives me bananas.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2010, 09:38:44 AM »
Andrew and John: Thanks for letting us know that it is available and for the short review. The choice not to include full performances of individual songs and "letting the music speak for itself," is indeed puzzling, especially on a DVD. I haven't seen it yet, but if the individual songs are marked as they are in the Guitar Artistry series DVDs, the viewer can always jump to the next performance if he or she wants. It's easy for the viewer to fast forward trough part of a song, but impossible to put it in if it has been left out. As for voice overs, they can be included as an option like the "director's commentary" is on movie DVDs.

I'll probably get this one, but I'll be doing so with both eyes open. Thanks for the warning. Caveat emptor.

Offline David Kaatz

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2010, 07:29:45 PM »
Hi John - I haven't seen the film but what you describe seems to me to be the fatal flaw of the majority of music-centred documentaries: an inability to let the music speak for itself. Drives me bananas.
Totally agree with this.  Way too few movies let the music speak (sing) for itself.

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2010, 01:29:02 AM »
Even the excellent music documentaries we get on BBC4 over here in the UK suffer from the same problem. There is a tendency, perhaps understandable, to aim for the widest possible audience, so whilst we country blues nuts would relish a 3-minute performance by the likes of Son House, your average viewer might not.

Also, given the way so many TV programmes in recent years are so dumbed down that they manage to fit 10 minutes' worth of footage into half an hour ("Previously on so-and-so", "Later on so-and-so", "Still to come" - it drives me mad, you see the same footage three times+ in one programme), the programme makers must assume most viewers have the attention span of a gnat.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2010, 05:02:42 AM »
not to excuse what I find annoying as well--incomplete performances--but I know from experience that sometimes the filmmaker is held financial hostage by the 'owner' of the footage.
The only solution in such situations (if the performance is essential to the film) is paying for a portion measured in seconds.
This accounts for the repeated use of the same 15-30 second clip.
And so it goes....
bruce

Offline poymando

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2010, 11:40:36 AM »
A friend of mine directed a music documentary that featured some archival performance clips that were only a few seconds long. He would have loved to run the entire performance but getting the rights to use even those very short snippets was extremely expensive...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2010, 12:21:58 PM »
Hi all,
Just in the interest of staying on the topic of the movie in question, the performances that I alluded to that were truncated in "Chain' Gus' Ghost" were not archival footage, but were filmed for the movie, so I don't see how rights were at issue.  The decision to show partial performances appears to have been an artistic decision, and the wrong one, from my point of view.
All best,
Johnm

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2010, 03:27:10 PM »
John,
But if the piece of music isn't P.D., archival footage or not, you're dealing with a publisher as well as the performers. Some pubs are pretty greedy, and there's no fixed rate for a sync license--it's let's make a deal time.
I understand your point about Gus' Ghost... it was an "artistic" decision to crop the tunes. I haven't seen the film, so I can't really say. However, if the songs in question are under copyright.....(think the Robert Johnson song catalog).
best,
bruce

 


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