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Film

Populist voice of pride and protest, or dubious guarantor of "authenticity," folk music has always registered as an essential feature of the culture that produced it. Much of the material on display at Anthology's Folk Film Festival—a selection drawn from three major sources: legendary scholar Alan Lomax, musician-photographer John Cohen (who will be present following the August 27 screening of his films), and Kentucky-based nonprofit Appalshop—takes up this notion of music as cultural skeleton key in exploring historically isolated populations, from Appalachia to Peru. The anthropological approach is well represented in the films available for preview, including Lomax's The Land Where Blues Began and Cohen's High Lonesome Sound, which look at music, work, and religion in the Mississippi Delta and Kentucky coal country, respectively. Still, the greatest value of these films is in simply documenting performers at work—from titans like Son House in Lomax's Devil Got My Woman to lesser-known talents like the extraordinary Dillard Chandler in Cohen's The End of an Old Song. Chandler's searing, unaccompanied vocal performances of traditional English ballads may be the last of a fading tradition, but the film ends hopefully with the singer dancing to the strains of a diner jukebox, a moment embracing both tradition and modernity.


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