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lMovie Review
"Songcatcher"
By Mira Harber
     Whatever else you may think of this movie, without a doubt, the star of Songcatcher is the music. As the film starts, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) - a very emancipated musicologist - sings a famous English folk tune, Barbara Allen, to a class of students (for those of you old movie fans, you’ll recognize Barbara Allen as the music that was playing as old Scrooge, Alastair Sims, came to his senses!).
     The time is 1910, and Lily is denied tenure at her university, once again, because she is a woman. She leaves in disgust and decides to visit her sister Elna (Jane Adams) in the isolated Appalachian Mountains. What she discovers there leaves her awestruck. 
     When we think of people living in Appalachia, what is the picture that we have in our minds? Who are these people, and how do they live? Here comes a surprise; Music plays an incredibly important part in the lives of these people. They are not the incredibly ignorant, totally culture-less, savages that people from the ‘outside’ imagine. Their lives may be simple, hard and even rough, but their lives are also intertwined with music & nature. Music is not something foreign, that other people perform and that they listen to. Oh no, music is part of the very fabric of their lives.
     When Lily arrives in the isolated Appalachian mountain village where her sister teaches school and lives, she meets a gorgeous young orphan Deladis Slocumb (Emmy Rossum). She lives at the school and sings like an absolute angel in an incredibly powerful and pure voice. In fact, she is singing the same song that we heard at the beginning of the film, but it is very, very different. What she is singing is music that has remained virtually unchanged and pure for over 200 years - when the original English arrived in the Appalachian hills.
What a discovery! Lily is enraptured and now she is on a mission. She travels the depth and breadth of the local villages, over seemingly unsurpassable trails and paths (no paved roads here) and records the songs and voices of these Appalachian people. 
     The phonograph was modern technology in 1910, and Lily and her assistants lug all her equipment high and low while she gathers the folk tunes, records the amazing singers, and notates what they are singing for publication in a book she plans to write about her incredible discovery.
     Of course there is some initial resistance to her plans, and yes, some of the people living in those hills are savages, but Lily’s heart is won by the gruff, but good-hearted mountain man (played beautifully by Aidan Quinn). Songcatcher at times comes perilously close to predictable, syrupy sweet, clichéd melodrama. 
     An evil coal-mining representative schemes to rob the locals of their land under the guise of embracing the modern. The loving lesbians are discovered frolicking in the hills by two local yabos and an errant husband pays the price for his misdeeds.
     Lily chafes at the restrictions placed on her as a woman, and she is in many ways simply too modern for this story. She is a little too frosty and cerebral for my tastes, but she does come very close to achieving her task.
     Some of the supporting characters are wonderfully cast, particularly the gun-toting old woman, Viney Butler (Pat Carroll) and the young girl, Deladis Slocumb with the amazing voice. 
A note of warning: one of the sub-plots involves two lesbian lovers in a somewhat graphic sexual scene and there is also a really intense scene of childbirth, which is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
     Even if you have no interest in music of this sort, I guarantee you that once you see this movie you will want to run out and buy the CD - the music really is the star. It is beautiful and simple music that demands another hearing.

 
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