A Mighty Wind
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, essayist Roger Rosenblatt goes to the movies, and has a nostalgia attack.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I went to see “A Mighty Wind” for the second time, in the fanciful hope that they might have changed the ending. I wanted the movie to end where the fictional folk singers sing “A mighty Wind” at the conclusion of their fictional concert down at town hall, shown on– what else?– PBS. They call it PBN.
SINGING: A mighty wind’s a-blowing it’s kicking up the sand…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: There is some funny stuff in the movie’s epilogue, but for me the movie ends perfectly when it recalls something less funny but more moving. Like the two earlier wonder works by Christopher Guest and his gang of comic artists, “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman,” “A Mighty Wind” is a gentle send-up, this time of the folk singers and their audiences of the 1950s and 1960s.
ACTOR: They had no hole in the center of the records.
ACTOR: And if you punched a hole in them, you’d have a good time.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The difference is that in this sendoff, today’s audience is sent drifting back to a time when the catchwords of the songs– peace, love, and equality– were not a joke. Funny to see and hear this all again, genuinely funny and sentimentally funny.
SINGING: Last night I had the strangest dream I never dreamed before….
ROGER ROSENBLATT: We took it all so seriously back then, the real concerts at Carnegie Hall and town hall, where one sat rapt before the Weavers and Oscar Brand, and the songs that foolishly touted communism, but were nonetheless inspired by heartfelt thoughts of community and fair play, followed by the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters, Peter, Paul and Mary, and others; songs about the working man and about tropical islands, and of course about “love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.” It was a kind of music hard to sustain, I suppose, easily overtaken by rock and roll and by a sound more various than that produced by bass, banjo, and guitar. Perhaps the ideas were harder to sustain than the sounds. Folk music was so big, and then it went.
ACTOR: To try a retro thing, it must just look kind of…
ACTOR: To do that… I mean, to do then now would be retro. To do then then was very now- tro.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Christopher Guest and company catch the silliness of the movement, but they clearly love its sweetness, too, and so they honor what they mock. They seem to appreciate that the old singers, whatever their limitations, meant what they sang. And to be fair, their songs were no more or less foolish than those of lusty and thoughtless patriotism today.
SINGER: My daddy served in the army he lost his right eye but he flew a flag out in our yard till the day that he died…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: With a war still smoldering and terror alerts the color of orange, “A Mighty Wind” played to welcoming crowds who might have been on a nostalgia trip attached to an unspoken wish. Peace, love, and equality are more difficult to define than their opposing forces, much less to achieve, but one believes in them still.
SINGING: It’s a different time a time to pray…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Sitting in the dark in the movie house away from the news, one dreamt back to a more hopeful time, errors and all, ridiculous, corny, lovely.
SINGING: A mighty wind’s a-blowing…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I’ll see the movie one more time when it’s available on tape. Maybe they will have changed the ending. But that’s the last thing one hears, is the song that wished the world well.
SINGING: For the land and across the sea it’s blowing peace and freedom it’s blowing equality.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I’m Roger Rosenblatt.