Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation is rich in archival footage

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Featuring Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Pete Seeger, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Unrated. Opens Friday, July 12, at the Vancity Theatre

Presenting New York’s most bohemian neighbourhood as an incubator of counterculture (if eventually mainstream) sound is such a no-brainer, it matters little that first-time director Laura Archibald doesn’t show much filmmaking intelligence. Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation is highly disorganized, cluttered up with needless graphics, and the interviews are shot under distractingly variable conditions. (A number seem to have been undertaken at our own Jericho Beach, with much festival noise in the background.)

This is forgivable because the archival clips are so good. Obviously, there could always be more Bob Dylan in such a context (and senior beatnik Dave Van Ronk and other old folkies get notably short shrift). But the film, with Susan Sarandon narrating, does a fair job of conveying the crucial early ’60s moment in which the recent Minnesota transplant grabbed the “authentic” folk baton from Woody Guthrie, sharpened it, and started penning his own tunes.

This development was not lost on rivals and acolytes like Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon, Richie Havens, and John Sebastian, all of whom are well represented, along with Judy Collins, who stuck to championing Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and other new songwriters.

Sebastian famously formed the Lovin’ Spoonful, joining the Byrds as chief exponents of a folk-rock hybrid that later morphed into psychedelic and country rock. After a long digression into Woodstock, Melanie, and bubblegum psych (this is was supposed to be about Greenwich Village, right?), Archibald suddenly jumps back more than a decade to explore the anti-communist blacklist that damaged the careers of many, including Pete Seeger, who at least gets the last word here. This Music’s a mess, but the beat goes on.

Watch the trailer for Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation.
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