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How Sweet the Sound [DVD] [Import]
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Joan has stood with only her guitar and her clear, luminous voice braving dictators and bullies, military henchmen and bigoted thugs who would try to silence her from speaking or singing, determined to bring comfort and solace where she could, and hope and inspiration where she might. She has sung, marched, written about and simply been present at some of the seminal events of the past century; she has seen the triumphs and tragedies close up.
And finally this remarkable life has been documented with a depth befitting the woman who has quite rightfully become known as the Queen of Folk! The PBS 'American Masters' film takes us inside Joan's family, provides unprecedented access to friends and colleagues, and reveals the influences for her activism and her music---all candidly intimate and not always flattering, but never less than fascinating and sometimes funny, often poignant and always enthralling.
I would urge anyone who is familiar with and appreciates Ms. Baez' music to see this extraordinary documentary, and enjoy the splendid music included within the film that traverses her career from its very beginnings to her most recent release, produced by Steve Earle. It's been a long time coming, but it's here at last...THANK YOU, Joan Baez, PBS and the producers and filmmakers for this wonderful tribute!
Early in this wonderful new documentary, Joan Baez states that many people tell her that they have known her music all their lives, yet many also confess that they know little about her, beyond her music. This statement did not strike me as odd; I needed only think about it for a brief moment, and I knew that it was true for me as well. Although I have loved and listened to the music of this incredible singer for over thirty years, admittedly far less than her stellar 50-year career, I confess that I had never really known much about her life. There were snatches of knowledge along the way - I knew that she was a tireless advocate of human rights, and I knew that her husband, David Harris, was jailed for inciting draft evasion shortly after they were married. I also knew that she had had a brief romantic fling with Bob Dylan. But, biographically speaking, that was where my knowledge of her ended. Although I have owned some of her earliest records for a very long time, I knew little about her career, family life or even her involvement in politics, although, of course, I had gleaned some of her activism just from her choice of material.
The film, which runs a little under 90 minutes, reflects a great deal of private and public information about Ms. Baez of which I was previously unaware. It also contains numerous clips of the early career, and the full story of her early triumphs. Some secrets are revealed; she speaks candidly about the stage fright that plagued many of her early performances, an affliction that no one was aware of. She comes across as humble and passionate as one would expect, yet the full breadth of her achievements were something that I, for one, had never really stopped to think about. Wherever there were downtrodden people in trouble, Joan Baez was there, lifting her gorgeous soprano in support and concern, and if any one attribute emerged above all others in this candid and interesting portrait, I would have to say it was her bravery. Although I was aware of her involvement with the civil rights movement, it came as an impressive surprise to learn that she was counted among Martin Luther King's closest personal friends. The newsreel footage of her personally escorting small black children into a segregated school in the heart of KKK territory, Grenada Mississippi, was heartbreaking and uplifting. The film clips of her singing, "We Shall Overcome" to the throngs assembled to hear Dr. King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech were both thrilling and enlightening.
The film covers all of Joan Baez' career, much of her activism, and incorporates contemporary interviews with her and her peers, including Bob Dylan, her ex-husband, David Harris and her son, Gabriel Harris, among several others. When she speaks of the death of her beloved sister, Mimi Fariña, I was extremely moved.
I can't recall ever watching a more satisfying or entertaining musical documentary, save perhaps the excellent American Masters bio of Ella Fitzgerald, Something to Live For. My only quibble with Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound is that, unlike the Ella Fitzgerald film, nowhere in the numerous but brief film clips is there a complete performance of a single song; it would have been nice if the producers had thought to include a complete musical number or two as extra features, However, this is not to say that the film does not deserve the five stars I award it here; the focus of this wonderful biography is to shed some information on Ms. Baez' life and career; those who are interested in her music have a plethora of albums to choose from.
On the whole, I enjoyed every single minute of this film, and it is highly recommended.