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When I'd go see him he says 'Whenever I get up, if I live to get up, me and you gonna put out nothin' but gospel music... I done joined the church and don't wanna play no more blues.' I told him 'Okay' but I wasn't lookin' for him to get up - Sam Chatmon, on Lonnie's conversion

Author Topic: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie  (Read 6506 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

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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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

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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

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

Offline arlotone

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #15 on: August 06, 2010, 02:45:59 PM »
This film was intended for theatrical viewing, so I imagine including every performance in full would have made it prohibitively long. It's not an instructional DVD or an archive of footage but a documentary and it follows the typical editing style for that format. I saw the film three different times in theater settings and it seemed to work well for a more general audience. In fact, I overheard people afterwards saying things like, "I had no idea jug band music was so important," which is great.

That being said, I heard a rumor that the DVD contains the complete performances as bonus features. Can anyone confirm that? I haven't bought it yet but I plan to. As a total jug band nerd, the film contains a few historical type things that bugged me. But those distractions diminished each time I saw it and I got more out of what the interviewees were saying, and enjoyed the footage that is there. There really is some unique stuff: the Yank Rachell performance, the Kweskin/Muldaur/Sebastian tour in Japan, an insightful interview with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and a poignant interview with an ill Fritz Richmond. Not bad for 20 bucks!

Offline Rivers

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2010, 07:43:31 PM »
"I had no idea jug band music was so important,"

There's one for the quote generator  :P

Offline soul of a man

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2010, 07:41:56 AM »
I think the movie was created more as an introduction to jug band music for general audiences and, as such, it works pretty well.  I'm unhappy to report that complete performances are not available as extras on the DVD.  Mostly the extras consist of interviews with Fritz Richmond and John Sebastian.

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #18 on: August 23, 2010, 05:59:18 PM »
I recently purchased this dvd online. I have to say that this is one of the best Country Blues-oriented dvds out there. The 'Down The Tracks' Zeppelin and Dylan ones were also great for the simple reason that all three of these discs admit that they are providing us with insight into early Blues through the eyes of outsiders. Yes, that is something that is essential to mention at the beginning of any documentary about Blues. The goofyness that surrounds a lot of other Blues (or Jug Band) documentaries (Scorcese mess) wasn't present here, unless you count Taj Mahal's part as silly, which I don't. To his credit, Taj did the best job he could. His lines were well delivered although the concept itself was a bit cheezy. He didn't harm the thing in the end.

Yes, there should have been an option on the dvd which allows the viewer to take a look at the performances in their entirety. The performances could not have been shown in their entirety during the actual documentary. This is for reasons related to length of the film and perhaps monetary ones.

Highlights abound. I particularly enjoyed seeing John Estes' sons, one of whom looks exactly like Sleepy John. I thought the segment on Louisville was fantastic. It was a joy to take a look at, no, feel, what New York City was like half a century ago. It was heartwarming, strange, and funny to see the popularity of jug band music in Japan and to see mostly Jewish, middle-aged New Yorkers hang out there. I would have loved to see Kweskin and others walk around Tokyo. That would have made a superb extra!

One Blues historian in the documentary, Fetzer Mills (spelling?), was really something. He certainly seemed eccentric but you could tell that he's extremely passionate about what he does (for a living?).

Basically, the reason that this was an excellent documentary is because the makers spared us absurd romanticism related to the music and didn't torture us by superimposing middle-aged white guys' lives and realities upon those of Gus Cannon, a black man who was born between 1874 and 1883. We understood, just as any rational person would, that there is a distinct separation between the worlds of these two camps. It was the love of Sebastian, Kweskin and others for this great American music that shone through, and not a label like authentic.

It was also important to see young African-American musicians carrying this stuff on. I'd always thought that most Rap songs sounded like the verses in "On The Road Again", and now my musically untrained ears have confirmation.

For me, the negatives are that Professor Evans and Samuel Charters didn't get to speak enough and that the film was a little disjointed and poorly edited in places.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2010, 06:01:45 PM by doctorpep »
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Offline Stumblin

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #19 on: May 30, 2011, 06:30:20 AM »
Okay. My copy arrived last week.
I can't say I'm fantastically enthusiastic about the film as a whole.
It seemed to me that the director gave up on Gus Cannon et al way too easily and concentrated on the Muldaurs, Jim Kweskin etc. This is probably fine for someone who lived through the late 1960s as a music-conscious sub-culture denizen, but I don't really know much about those people. They're all cool and probably nice people, but I was expecting more historical content in this documentary, so I felt a bit disappointed.
The Yokohama Jug Band Festival was an eye opener though, I've got to get to that one of these days.
The reason I'm bumping this old thread?
So that anyone thinking of buying this DVD in hopes of lots of early blues history can be warned that it concentrates largely on a number of 60s revivalists. I'll certainly check out the bonus performances when I have time, but it's probably unlikely that I'll watch the feature again in its entirety.

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #20 on: June 02, 2011, 07:08:21 PM »

  I believe the film maker's intent was to represent Jug Band Music as a living, evolving art form, rather than give a history lesson about a museum piece.

  I agree that, if you're looking for a lot of historical, biographical data on early Blues, then this is definitely not the film for you.

  Guys like Kweskin, Muldaur and Fritz Richmond really mean something to me, because it was through their inspiration and my own involvement with Jug Band Music that I became introduced to Country Blues.
  Would I have discovered CB without playing and listening to Jug Band first?
  Of course I would have, but I derive a lot of inspiration from them (and, of course, the originators, Like Gus Cannon, the Memphis Jug Band, et al) to this day

  It's definitely a "preaching to the choir" movie, but then, so are most films about music, in one way or another.

  I give it a "thumbs up"

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #21 on: June 03, 2011, 02:17:02 AM »
No harshness intended.
I'll probably make a couple of copies & distribute them amongst friends.
That Yokohama bit really made the whole thing for me.
But really; locate graveyard, travel to graveyard, can't be bothered to search for grave...
That was a big low point.

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #22 on: June 03, 2011, 07:05:34 AM »
"But really; locate graveyard, travel to graveyard, can't be bothered to search for grave...
That was a big low point"


     Agreed, Stumblin! Definitely a low point.
     The film maker is obviously not a polished Pro. There's a lot of amateurish "home movie" moments. 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #23 on: June 03, 2011, 08:11:09 AM »
I'll probably make a couple of copies & distribute them amongst friends.

I think you meant make copies of <insert megabuck Hollywood blockbuster here> while recommending small indie projects for more legit viewing methods which support that kind of work and add a smidgen of hope that more such work might get done by others in the future, perhaps of better quality. Just guessing.  >:D

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Chasin' Gus' Ghost - the Movie
« Reply #24 on: June 03, 2011, 11:44:04 AM »
I'll probably make a couple of copies & distribute them amongst friends.

I think you meant make copies of <insert megabuck Hollywood blockbuster here> while recommending small indie projects for more legit viewing methods which support that kind of work and add a smidgen of hope that more such work might get done by others in the future, perhaps of better quality. Just guessing.  >:D
You're absolutely correct, of course, I will now revise my plan of action.
The disc will get lent to a couple of friends who I think will appreciate it.

 


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