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Docurama presents
Dancing to New Orleans (2003)

"It's just something to make you happy, to get your feet moving."
- C. J. Chenier, on zydeco

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 12, 2004

Stars: BeauSoleil, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, John Campbell, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Neville Brothers, C. J. Chenier, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Lionel Ferbos & The Palm Court Jazz Band, Big Jack Johnson, Raymond Miles, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint
Director: Michael Murphy

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:29m:09s
Release Date: September 30, 2003
UPC: 767685956038
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+B+B C

DVD Review

The true challenge of this review, about a documentary on Louisiana music, is to get through it without resorting to gumbo metaphors. (The disc itself has taken care of that, for it reads: "A spicy gumbo of incredible music." Which is true, actually.) Things are just a little bit different down in Louisiana; even Southerners from every other state in the region will tell you that. This film is a happy if cursory look at the varied cultural influences on the Sportsman's Paradise, and how they have produced some of the best and most influential music in this country.

With a tremendous amount of historical and musical ground to cover, the film handles it all pretty facilely; a voice-over narration tells us grade-school history facts, like "blues was born out of hard times in the South." And the obligatory academic is on hand, to complicate things for us, and to give highfalutin' language to what we all readily recognize. So the strengths of the film are elsewhere—and that's with the music. First it's the Louisiana Hayride, and the traditional country sound giving way to a more bluesy music: there's Hank Williams, of course, and Elvis Presley, and an especially good clip of Jerry Lee Lewis covering a Williams tune, I Lose Again. Then it's a brief survey of delta blues and gospel music—one of the principal dynamics here is between the sacred and the profane, gospel on the one hand, blues on the other, and the cross-pollination between the two.

Best of all, though, are the performers. Big Jack Johnson gives us a survey of different kinds of blues; Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown makes his guitar sing, and talks about growing up on the Texas-Louisiana border; and an accordion maker gives us a cursory tour through his trade, producing the instrument so crucial for the zydeco sound. Respect is paid to the great jazz musicians of the region, too, including Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, and of course the greatest of them all, New Orleans' own Louis Armstrong.

All the musicians play to big, happy crowds, fueled by good music, good food, and (I'd wager) no small amount of alcohol. (The tunes are so much better than the documentary footage, actually, that you may find yourself wishing that this was just a straight-up concert film.) You can see the various cultural and geographical influences on the region: from Africa, the Caribbean, the French West Indies, from Frenchmen moving down from Canada. The title is sort of a misnomer, as the film covers not just the Crescent City, but the whole great state of Louisiana. The filmmakers also spend some time with local artists, part of the same cultural heritage as the musicians; all in all, it's a documentary designed to make you want to pop open a cold Dixie, queue up your Buckwheat Zydeco CDs, and kick it up a notch in the kitchen. Where yat, dahlin'?

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This was a multi-camera shoot, both for the concerts and interview footage, and there's a good amount of visual sophistication here; it's all shot with style and flair. Some of the stock footage doesn't look as good, but the transfer seems to be a pretty clean one.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: For DVD purposes, a 5.1 track has been mixed up, but the 2.0 track sounds just fine, with solid range and little buzz or hiss. The music is why you should be here, and it sounds pretty fair, even under the trying conditions of shooting live.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Speaking in Strings, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Sound and Fury, Brother's Keeper, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your Right, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. notes on music, art and resources in Louisiana
  2. Docurama catalog
  3. DVD credits
Extras Review: You can learn more about the Louisiana Hayride and various instruments, including the wonderful rubboard, under a section called Music Notes; similarly, Art Notes features info on three Louisiana artists, and Resources gives contact information for three organizations, if you'd care to learn more about the music. Included among these is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and if you've never been, it's worth the trip. Also on hand is an extensive Docurama catalog, with trailers for eleven of their DVD titles.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A tuneful primer on the Big Easy and its musical and cultural scene. Bring your dancing shoes, now.


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