A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
I don't know if Pete Seeger believes in saints, but I believe he is one. He's the one in the front as they go marching in. "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" is a tribute to the legendary singer and composer who thought music could be a force for good, and proved it by writing songs that have actually helped shape our times ("If I Had a Hammer" and "Turn, Turn, Turn") and popularizing "We Shall Overcome" and Woody Guthrie's unofficial national anthem, "This Land Is Your Land." Over his long career (he is 88), he has toured tirelessly with song and stories, never happier than when he gets everyone in the audience to sing along.
This documentary, directed by Jim Brown, is a sequel of sorts to Brown's wonderful "The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time!" (1982), which centered on the farewell Carnegie Hall concert of the singing group Seeger was long associated with. The Weavers had many big hits circa 1950 ("Goodnight Irene," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine") before being blacklisted during the McCarthy years; called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and asked to name members of the Communist Party, Seeger evoked, not the fifth, but the First Amendment. The Weavers immediately disappeared from the playlists of most radio stations, and Seeger did not appear on television for 17 years, until the Smothers Brothers broke the boycott.
But he kept singing, invented a new kind of banjo, did more for the rebirth of that instrument than anyone else, co-founded two folk-song magazines, and with Toshi, his wife of 62 years, did more and sooner than most to live a "green" lifestyle, just because it was his nature. On rural land in upstate New York, they lived for years in a log cabin he built himself, and we see him still chopping firewood and working on the land. "I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater," Wikipedia quotes him. "He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."
With access to remarkable archival footage, old TV shows, home movies and the family photo album, Brown weaves together the story of the Seegers with testimony by admirers who represent his influence and legacy: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers, Julian Bond and Bonnie Raitt. There is also coverage of the whole Seeger family musical tradition, including brother Mike and sister Peggy.