The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
In September of 2004 at the Toronto Film Festival, the Weavers sang together for possibly the last time. The event had great meaning for those who knew the Weavers and remembered their songs; in progressive circles they supplied the soundtrack for a good part of the 1950s and 1960s -- the Weavers, and those who followed in their footsteps, such as Arlo Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Leon Bibb. If feelings stir within you when you hear "Goodnight, Irene" and "Wimoweh" and "This Land Is Your Land" and "If I Had a Hammer" and "Midnight Special" and "Rock Island Line," then the Weavers are a part of you.
The Weavers were Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman. In 1982, they held what was then billed as their farewell concert, at Carnegie Hall, and it was documented in "The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time!" I thought it was one of the best and most moving musical documentaries ever made. More than 20 years later, in 2003, the Weavers gathered to sing in Carnegie one more time, in honor of Harold Leventhal, who was celebrating 50 years as an impresario. It was Leventhal who booked them in the good years and the bad, after they fell victim to the McCarthy-era blacklist and were barred from the mainstream after spending the late 1940s at the top of the charts.
The gathering at Toronto marked the premiere of "Isn't This a Time!," the doc about the 2003 concert. After it, the Weavers sang one last time. Jim Brown, who directed the 1982 doc, returned to film the 2003 concert. If the sequel is slightly less compelling than the 1982 film, that's because time has taken a toll; Lee Hays had died, Seeger, the grand old man of American folk music, was 84 in 2003, and Gilbert and Hellerman were almost 80. They were joined by Eric Darling and Eric Weissberg, and it was an evening of tears and joy. No longer are the famous voices quite as they were, but the spirit is undimmed and the emotion is, if anything, more powerful.
The power if "Isn't This a Time" comes partly from the songs themselves, including those listed above and many more, like "On Top of Old Smoky" and "Kumbaya" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and of course "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You." It comes from the contributions of Leon Bibb, Peter, Paul and Mary, Theo Bikel and Arlo Guthrie, who organized the concert. It comes too from history: It was Arlo's father, Woody Guthrie, who invented the kind of music that Seeger and the Weavers performed, and Pete and Woody sang in the original Almanac Singers, a group identified with the 1930s labor movement.