Dancing to New Orleans
Docurama // Unrated // $24.95 // September 30, 2003
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted September 28, 2003
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
New Orleans is in many ways the most musically important city in the country. The birthplace of jazz and rich in the intertwined histories of blues, country, soul, gospel, plus more regional fare like zydeco, that town has done more to develop the identity of the American sound than just about any other. Dancing To New Orleans, however, isn't nearly as inspired as the place that it depicts. A bland documentary on the variety of styles in the Big Easy, the film is filled with droning narration that sounds like something from a museum installation. Its strongest feature is its willingness to play long chunks of songs instead of the usual thirty-second clips, but overall it functions as little more than a shallow primer.

To be fair, it's possible that this music is too broad for a ninety minute film. (After all, Ken Burns spent over 16 hours just on Jazz and Martin Scorsese's PBS series The Blues is spread over seven episodes.) And performances here from artists like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and CJ Chenier (son of the king of zydeco, Clifton Chenier) are really enjoyable. Additionally, Raymond Miles' sweaty brand of gospel bridges the gap between God and the Godfather of Soul and the Palm Court Jazz Band shows that you can still get funky in your nineties.

Even with all these great performers on hand, however, the film itself is of little substance. It briefly mentions important elements like the southern poverty of the music's originators or the dichotomy of the preacher and the bluesman but never really gets beneath the surface. Perhaps "Gatemouth" sums it up best when he says, "I wrote 'Dangerous River' after seeing an alligator in my backyard. I thought, 'Boy, that's a dangerous river!'" How's that for direct and to the point?

VIDEO:
The video is clean and clear. It's full-frame and looks fine. It's essentially the same as when this program was broadcast on Bravo earlier this year.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is pretty good, even if many of the live recordings weren't made under optimal conditions. Still, the performances (which, as I said, are the only reason to watch) sound good and lively.

EXTRAS:
A filmmaker bio and some notes on the region and the music.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Documentaries on various musical styles and regions pop up all the time. To really stand out they need to get deep within the soul of the sound. This one doesn't. As a documentary it's a boring watch. But many of the performances themselves are worth a look.



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