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Greenwich Village: Music that United a Generation: Film Review

The Bottom Line

Nostalgia reigns in enjoyable music-history doc.

Opens:

Friday, January 18 (Kino Lorber)

Director:

Laura Archibald

Geography makes all the difference in Laura Archibald's portrait of NYC Bohemia's heyday.

A history lesson that holds some pleasures even for those who know its material by heart, Laura Archibald's Greenwich Village: Music that United a Generation is especially eager to disabuse viewers of the notion that the singer-songwriter was born on the West Coast. The agreeably low-budget doc will only draw die-hards to the theater, but should have a longer life on small screens.

Relying on Suze Rotolo's memoir A Freewheelin' Time (as read by Susan Sarandon) for much of its Bohemian scene-setting, Archibald pays homage to some in-the-know hangouts, including Izzy Young's Folklore Center, alongside longer-lived (if much-changed) institutions like Cafe Wha? and The Bitter End.

Wrangling a surprising number of big names in catch-as-catch-can interviews, the director has long chats with Pete Seeger and Pete Yarrow, Carly Simon and sister Lucy, Judy Collins and many more. (Dylan, predictably, eludes her.) Surprisingly, given how long people have been nostalgic for this period, few of the anecdotes feel canned; Jose Feliciano may have told that story a million times, but it feels fresh.

Vintage performance clips are divided between those that had enormous impact but look square now (The Big Three doing "Fare Thee Well") and those, like Phil Ochs doing "I Ain't Marching Any More" and Richie Havens' electrifying "Freedom," you really wish Archibald would let play in their entirety before cutting to another interview.

The director spells out the influences these musicians had in common (the Harry Smith Anthology; the Weavers), describes the club scene where they learned their craft (they may have been competitors, but everybody went to everybody else's shows), and reminds us that, in this almost innocent time, coffee was "the drug of choice."

A closing chapter on politics catches some interviewees sounding a bit too self-congratulatory, which isn't to say they're wrong in seeing this historical moment as the grandfather to Live Aid, Farm Aid, and the like. More refreshing are the acknowledgements (including one from latter-day troubadour Steve Earle) that a lot of political art is bad art, and the most lasting work was often that which took some effort to decipher.

Director: Laura Archibald

Screenwriters: Laura Archibald, Rob Lindsay, Kevin Wallis

Producers: Laura Archibald, Nicolas Kleiman, Rob Lindsay, Kevin Wallis

Executive producers: Joe Cecala

Director of photography: Pete Howell

Editor: Nicolas Kleiman, Rob Lindsay, Kevin Wallis

No rating, 92 minutes