The blossoming musical era of Greenwich Village in the 1960s and '70s is a time long gone, before music was consumed largely by auto-tune and haphazardly recycled lyrics. Told through a series of interviews, photos, music clips, archival footage, and strung together by the narration of Susan Sarandon, in the documentary Greenwich Village: The Music That Defined a Generation, Greenwich Village’s past coalesces into a story of a time where youth and those who deviated from the mainstream could unite because they truly believed that they could change the world through a passion for music.
The film is presented like a series of vignettes interspersed with a mishmash of photos, videos, and music. It captures the feeling of the era and also allows the audience to experience the individual stories as told by musicians such as Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, and Oscar Brand. The grainy music videos are themselves a testament to the musical energy of the 20th century—the songs are performed with vivacity, the strings attacked with such ferocity that they produce a soul-shaking cacophony of sounds, yet are beautiful at the same time. In a way, the film romanticizes the decade, not often referring to important political issues or cultural changes the young musicians of Greenwich Village may have influenced, but focusing more on the nostalgic undertones.
Even though the content presented provides clear historical and cultural value, these are overshadowed by the fact that the film generally lacks an organizational structure. Different ideas are thrown around, and the film jumps from topic to topic, lacking smooth transitions. There are snippets of animation to help introduce each new section of the film and provide visual variety, but they just come across as attempts to fill the awkward gaps between different subjects.
Sparse editing is also an issue. Some interviews are done in studio lighting, with tight, sharp picture quality, while other interviews may leave the audience wondering why the cameraman shot in the middle of a park using an unfocused camera with quality equivalent to an iPhone. In several of the interview clips, background noise and sometimes a metallic echo can be heard. This is distracting since the storyline at those points is carried only by the audio narration of the various musician interviewees.
For the average moviegoer who didn't experience the music of the 60s first-hand, this film delivers less of an emotional or nostalgic impact; however, it does leave you with the feeling that there was—and there still is—something larger than the superficial understanding that most of us have of the music in a decade long gone. That era of Greenwich Village may have been evanescent, but its legacy lives on.
Greenwich Village: The Music That Defined a Generation
Grand Illusion Cinema
Through June 6
Sat & Sun: 5pm, 7pm
Mon-Wed: 7pm & 9pm
More info at grandillusioncinema.org