memorable images and a strong performance by British actress Janet
McTeer (“Tumbleweeds”) make this movie a first-rate summer choice.
Songcatcher, written and directed by Maggie Greenwald (“The
Ballad of Little Jo”), was a big hit at last year’s Sundance Film
Festival—and it’s about an educator.
tells the story of Dr. Lily Penleric (McTeer), a turn-of-the century
musicologist who heads for the remote North Carolina hills to
collect and study the music of the locals. The story, while somewhat
predictable, is always entertaining: Lily finds love, becomes
a free spirit and learns to appreciate the down-to-earth values
of simple life. It has a terrific soundtrack of traditional songs
by such greats as Taj Mahal and Emmylou Harris among others, and
it presents the people of Appalachia sympathetically while offering
a rare view of their vanishing way of life.
In 1907, Lily, passed over once again for the top musicologist
job at her Northeastern school, trudges off to the North Carolina
hills. Her sister Elna (Jane Adams) is living there and running
a school with another teacher, Harriet (E. Katherine Kerr), and
an angel-voiced orphan Deladis (Emmy Rossum). When Deladis sings
a ballad she learned from her grandmother, Lily recognizes immediately
that it is an old English folk song, preserved by the people here
for 200 years.
Lily, loosely based on the real Olive Dame Campbell who toured
the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1908, realizes that a study of the
local music could enhance her career, so she sets about transcribing
the traditional songs and recording them. It’s not easy: She must
earn the trust of the locals and traipse around with a mammoth
recording machine. Most opposed to her mission is handsome Tom
Bledsoe (Aidan Quinn) who considers her as exploitative as the
stereotyped mining interests who are trying to buy up the mountain
land at bargain prices. The movie also drags in lesbian love.
Lily succeeds in bringing the music to the outside world in which
bluegrass, country and rock ‘n’ roll have their roots. With its
minor flaws, the movie is always pleasurable and engrossing and
a must-see for any American music-lover.
minutes, released by Lions Gate Films, PG-13; for venues, call
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
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the publisher. © 2001.