Joel and Ethan Coen (“True Grit”) took home the Grand Prix award from the Cannes Film Festival last weekend, winning for their new feature, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The film is set in the thriving folk-music scene of 1960s Greenwich Village.
In a timely opening, a recent documentary, “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation,” arrives this week. Though lacking narrative focus, it offers rich impressions of a New York City artistic community that profoundly influenced American popular culture.
At its best, “Greenwich Village” introduces some of the survivors of such beloved folk clubs as Café Wha?, The Gaslight and The Bitter End, including such folk pillars (and on-camera interviewees) as Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Eric Andersen, Tom Chapin, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins and the late Richie Havens.
They offer historical context for the Village’s concentration of folk performances from the 1950s through the ’60s, and how it was really a renaissance of much older roots-music traditions. As such, the Village attracted both strict archivists and new singer-songwriters on its stages, among the latter such famous names as Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie and — above all — Bob Dylan.
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There’s concert footage, but not much, and what there is often comes, frustratingly, without comment. Clips of The Big 3 (a trio that gave rise to more important groups) and Richard Fariña (a significant bridge between literary and music worlds at the time) are left to dangle, leaving confusion and story gaps.
Ultimately, director Laura Archibald is less interested in a rigorous, textured, detailed history of the scene and its players than in getting warm and fuzzy about the link between folk music and progressive lifestyles. That connection exists, of course, but is that any reason to devote so much self-congratulatory screen time to Lucy and Carly Simon and next to nothing about legends Phil Ochs or Dave Van Ronk?
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org