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Docurama presents
The Main Stream with Roy Blount Jr. (2002)

"So when it gets right down to it, is it a rodent?"
- Roy Blount Jr., in front of a heaping plate of nutria, a.k.a. swamp rat

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 01, 2003

Stars: Roy Blount Jr.
Other Stars: Garrison Keillor
Director: Roger Weisberg

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:56m:01s
Release Date: February 25, 2003
UPC: 767685951231
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-BB- C

DVD Review

Only a handful of the sons and daughters of the South get to be Southern for a living, and Roy Blount Jr. is one of those lucky few. Despite having spent most of his adult life in New York, Blount has continued the careful cultivation of his Georgia roots, and that pedigree can be a marketable commodity in Manhattan. Blount well knows that New York is not the heartland of America, and he professes a concern that our country is becoming overly balkanized, so he sets out in search of mainstream America. To do so, he's going to travel the length of the Mississippi river—finding the mainstream on the main stream. Get it? And wouldn't you know, a documentary film crew is coming along for the ride.

Blount is actually pretty good company, but there's always a danger when you're billed as funny. (Funny how? Like I'm a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?) The whole event does feel contrived for cinematic purposes—director Roger Weisberg isn't working in a vérité style (Blount provides voice-overs, and shares credit for the screenplay), and it's not too hard to imagine the whole crew packing off to the Hyatt after a day's shooting on the river.

The structure is necessarily episodic—it's all about who Blount meets on his journey—and of course some of the bits are better than others. Many of them fall under the category of Eccentric Crap Encountered Along the Mississippi, like the scores of Native American casinos with depressing retirees losing their Social Security checks to the slots a quarter at a time, or the prison rodeo at a maximum security facility, which has the flavor of Christians being fed to the lions, or the manner in which Mark Twain's home town, Hannibal, Missouri, has been Disneyfied in tribute to its most famous son. (It's all Tom and Becky, and no Huck and Jim.) But one of Blount's canny points is that the folks of Hannibal have little choice, for the new economy is leaving this and similar river towns behind—just as Blount to some extent commodifies his Southernness, Hannibal is "selling clichés about small-town America."

Creeping industrialism is in fact the dark theme of the piece—Blount spends time with the good folks of Greenpeace, disparages industrial catfish farms, and is particularly affecting when discussing what's become known as Cancer Alley, the run of polluting plants along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Interviews with families with sick children—almost all black, the descendants of slaves—are especially poignant, and the unanswered and damning charge is one of "environmental racism." (Where's Erin Brockovich when you need her?) In these scenes, the film is at its muckraking best.

Blount starts off in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, the very beginning of the Mississippi, and soon the NPR-o-meter goes off the charts, for he meets up with Garrison Keillor, who grew up not far from the banks of the river. (As Keillor says, "You don't know what the blues is until you grow up in Minnesota.") And of course Blount's journey ends in New Orleans, full of voodoo and jazz, exploiting their own Louis Armstrong in much the same manner that Hannibal does with Twain.

Blount is well suited to the chores of tour guide, for he's convincing as both city mouse and country mouse—he gets razzed by some locals for being reluctant to go catch a catfish with his bare hands—and he's winning not only as a participant, but also as a bemused observer. The film is at its weakest when it's playing on that central main stream metaphor, and I doubt very much that Blount's perceptions of America were changed much by his journey. He's not exactly a 21st-century Huck Finn, pushing 60 with his Banana Republic wardrobe and unapologetic belly drooping over his belt, but it's easy to imagine worse company for a long ride.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Some debris is evident in the transfer, but generally the picture quality is high, with a nicely muted palette that shows off some of the stunning scenery suitable for postcards. Not a cinematographic tour de force, but then, that's not what you'd expect.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: All the location shooting means that the audio quality is variable, but interference is at a minimum, and the music is only occasionally too loud. Things don't start well, with a rendition of Take Me To the River with cutesy lyrics about Blount, but happily that doesn't prove to be a harbinger of things to come.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret to Inform,Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Sound and Fury, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your Right
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Roy Blount Jr. bibliography
  2. Docurama catalog
  3. DVD credits
Extras Review: Brief biographies are provided for Blount and Roger Weisberg, as well as a bibliography for the former. What's billed as a Travelogue is actually thirteen snapshots from the shoot, along with production notes serving as captions. Docurama's typically generous serving of additional trailers, along with production credits for this disc, round out the extras.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Unless you're a much heartier soul than I, you're unlikely to duplicate Blount's journey down the 2,552 miles of the Mississippi River. His vacation film doesn't break much new ground, and sometimes can seem a little precious, but it's generally a fine little travelogue.

 


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