Review by Susan Granger
3½ stars out of 4
Susan Granger's review of "SONGCATCHER"
In the midst of this summer's fare of dinos revisited and romantic fiascoes,
there are a few thoughtful movies - and this Appalachian period drama is one.
Oscar nominee Janet McTeer ("Tumbleweeds") stars as Dr. Lily Penleric, an
accomplished musicologist who, back in that pre-feminist era, was refused a full
professorship at her university. Determined to prove her worth, she ventures
deep into the rugged mountains of North Carolina, where her younger sister Elna
(Jane Adams) runs a school. There in Bear Creek, she discovers a treasure-trove
of traditional Scots-Irish and English folk ballads, given a unique
interpretation by the insular locals.
Excited, she sends for recording equipment and persuades Vinie Butler (Pat
Carroll) and other self-sustaining mountain folk to share their musical heritage
on her Edison phonograph cylinders. Their music, as she puts it, is "as much a
part of life here as the air you breathe." That's the main thrust of
writer-director Maggie Greenwald's occasionally uneven culture-clash story,
which is loosely based on Olive Dame Campbell's foray through the Blue Ridge
Mountains in 1908, but there's also some melodramatic romantic spice. Ornery,
bearded, banjo-picking Aidan Quinn falls for the statuesque, passionate
"songcatcher," while Elna secretly engages in a lesbian relationship with a
colleague (E. Katherine Kerr). I'm ready to buy the soulful soundtrack with
vocalists like Emmylou Harris, Iris DeMent, Taj Mahal and young opera star Emmy
Rossum who plays a pivotal role as McTeer's wide-eyed protégé. Rated PG-13,
there's an intense scene of primitive childbirth. On the Granger Movie Gauge of
1 to 10, "Songcatcher" is an intelligent, extraordinary 8, transported by the
transcendent power of song.
Copyright © 2000 Susan Granger