Studio: Lorber Films
Cast: Kate McGarrigle, Anna McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Dan Barrett, Justin Bond, I. Vincent Dow, Emmylou Harris, Lily Lanken, Chaim Tannenbaum, Sloan Wainwright, Cleo Zifkin, Rigel Zifkin, Toby Harper, Sylvan Lanken, Kathleen Weldon, Oren Bloedow, Brad Albetta, Matt Johnson, Tom Mennier, C.J. Camerieri, Hideaki Aomori, Tim Albright, Joel Zifkin
Director: Gerard Schmidt
Release Date: October 20, 2009
Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:35m:55s
"Christmas, it comes just once a year. And some things, on the other hand, only happen once in all of history." - Laurie Anderson from Beginning
Perhaps one of the more unusual Christmas concerts I've seen, this family-and-friends affair anchored by Kate and Anna McGarrigle is oddly disarming, in an "I'm not sure this is charming or not" sort of weird way. It may not be the perfect fit for every household, but there is that elusive something on display here that I can't put my finger on that I found intriguing. Even perpetually craggy rock icon Lou Reed looked like he was enjoying himself.
Movie Grade: C+
DVD Grade: C+
For the uninitiated, Kate and Anna McGarrigle are sisters who are probably best known (though they are hardly household names) as songwriters for the likes of Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and even rebel English folkie Billy Bragg. They've put out a few albums together themselves over the years, beginning in 1975, but most of their successes (such as Ronstadt's cover of Anna's Heart Like A Wheel) have come at the hands of others covering their work.
This 2008 Christmas concert—recorded at New York City's legendary Knitting Factory—is one part musical performance, two parts casual family family-and-friends reunion, with a scattershot mixture of traditional and not-so-traditional holiday numbers. The performers naturally include the McGarrigles, along with Kate's children Rufus and Martha (both of whom have developed their own musical careers), Justin Bond (who performs here in drag as his Kiki character), Lou Reed (in a red sweater!!), Laurie Anderson (Mrs. Lou Reed, who steals this one with her spoken word piece) and Emmylou Harris (still exhibiting one of the sweetest voices in the whole country/folk realm).
There's about a million other people who also perform, most of them all at one time, but one of the strange things about this release is that absolutely no one is identified. There's a menu (which only lists song titles), but once you hit play the concert starts, people crowd the shoebox-sized stage to sing and after an hour-and-a-half it ends. Sure, the end credits list ALL the performers (and there's a bunch), but it would take an extremely patient Google detective to backtrack and properly identify them all.
It's easy to identify the McGarrigles, but I was never positive which one was Kate and which one was Anna, not that it mattered, really. And with the exception of Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and Emmylou Harris, I would doubt most folks would have any clue who anyone was, including the McGarrigles.
The whole set is somewhat disjointed and loose, as if this were more of a sing-along-get-together rather than a polished concert; there's even a "do over" moment when Anna McGarrigle has some issues hitting the right notes on her accordion. Sheet music is used often for lyrics, so there's not always a whole lot of eye contact going on, and often times the core performers look downright miserable; the exception here is Martha Wainwright, who exhibits some frenetic body movements and at least LOOKS likes she having a good time (especially during her cover of The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping). The rest, not so much.
More seasoned special guest performers—such as Reed, Anderson and Harris—come off as infinitely more comfortable onstage, though they're used sparingly. Reed, in the aforementioned red sweater, takes lead on Blue Christmas, while Harris steps in a few times for other tunes, taking command of the stage with that agelessly beautiful voice of hers.
But it is Anderson—the perpetually spiky-haired performance artist—who owns the night here with Beginning, a solo spoken word number where she filters her voice to give it an unnaturally deep, slightly electronic tone. It's about as far from a traditional Christmas "song" as you can get, but Anderson carefully and methodically uses language like an instrument, making this the standout track of the whole set.
Old Waits Carol
Good King Wenceslas
Big Bright Beautiful Christmas Tree
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Trois Anges Sont Venus Ce Soir
I'll Be Home For Christmas
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Carol of the Birds
Christmas Time is Here
O Little Town of Bethlehem
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Thank God It's Christmas
Happy Xmas (War is Over)
The backcover lists this as 4:3, but it's actually a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, so that's something. It's a fairly soft transfer, but even with the wonky stage lighting, the picture quality looks passable. Audio is nothing terribly splashy, delivered in a somewhat restrictive 2.0 stereo mix that manages to comfortably handle the acoustic performances without losing too much of the subtle nuance.
The extras manage to fill in some of the cracks about history and who's who, and consist of six short segments bundled under the Behind The Scenes heading. The exception is Home Movies by Dane Lanken (04m:14s), which is pretty much what it says, and shows the McGarrigles and family during winters in Quebec circa 1985-1986. The other five bits feature Kate and Anna attempting to explain the origins of the Christmas show, how it came together, etc, and are entitled The First Show (06m:11s), Rehearsal (04m:21s), The Video Shoot (04m:29s), The Guests (12m:29s), About the Songs (10m:30s) and Friends and Family (06m:51s).
Posted by: Rich Rosell - November 1, 2009, 7:14 am - DVD Review
Keywords: christmas, mcgarrigles, knitting factory, lou reed, laurie anderson, emmylou harris