April 2008

In Search of the English Folk Song
Kultur International Films D4231
Format: DVD
Released: 2008

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Image Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Folk songs are those developed by the oral tradition through generations that lived before recording, radio, and television. The DVD In Search of the English Folk Song follows director Ken Russell on his motor tour of England, while sampling 13 folk singers and bands and one chamber orchestra in order to assess the English folk-song tradition’s current state. Not particularly dogmatic on what makes a song a folk song, it emphasizes wonderful performances, interspersing but not belaboring witty comments and charming occurrences. Extras are neither provided nor needed, and the subtitle and scene-selection functions are very convenient.

A high point, literally as well as figuratively, shows a man installing a sheet-metal electric guitar atop a traditional weather vane while the great electric folk band Fairport Convention plays "Seventeen Come Sunday." A few more of many wonderful moments: Lynne Fortt singing the protest song "Down at Greenham on a Spree" after describing a modern act of civil disobedience she took part in, June Tabor singing "The King of Rome" about a pigeon returning home after being mourned when believed lost to a storm, and Eliza Carthy doing "Good Morning, Mr. Walker" with her band onstage.

The video’s scenes are always crisp and colorful, subtly suggesting natural or less-human-modified settings in which folk songs developed. The sound is always fine despite the daunting array of venues. And permeating this engaging film is its maker’s honest, warm respect for everyone he meets, not only famous musicians. This parallels folk songs’ basic moral themes of justice, love, and consequences of good and bad behavior.