As I've mentioned the past couple days, though the perception may be that the film Wasn't That a Time was just a concert film of The Weavers' historic 1980 reunion at Carnegie Hall, in truth it is a full-fledged documentary about everything leading up to that and a look at their career, along with appearances by Peter, Paul & Mary, Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near, Don McLean and others. I had embedded video of that concert yesterday and was going to add another today, but then realized that that would just reinforce the erroneous perception. So, instead, here's a promotional clip that PBS put together when they aired the documentary, directed by Jim Brown.
It all began at a family picnic where the four members of The Weavers -- Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays -- got together and performed for the first time since they'd broken up in the 1950s after having been Blacklisted. Happily, a camera was present, and the footage here is of that very picnic when they picked up their instruments and voices just for the sake of celebration.
Much of the film follows their trying to decide whether to pursue things farther and actually have a reunion performance at Carnegie Hall, where they'd given a famous concert in 1957. They talk about it, try some things out, rehearse, and decide they can pull it off, and the camera captures it all. And this wonderful segment has some of that. Surprisingly, my favorite part is not the music itself, terrific as it is, but the looks of beatific joy on the faces of the family members and friends realizing that they're hearing this glorious music come out of these four people, having heard about it all these decades and listened to records, and known about the Blacklist causing the group to separate, but now finally getting the chance to actually experience all four together for the first time in their lives. And knowing how meaningful this is to their "Weaver" relative. Up there, too, is the reaction of The Weavers themselves when they finish their first song -- most notably Ronnie Gilbert, as she talks to the camera about her uncertainty and giddiness of it all. And the piece then ends up at the Carnegie Hall concert. It's all tied together by Lee Hay's affectionate, humorous and pointed narration, which he both wrote and delivers.
To keep repeating myself, it's a great documentary. It's about survival and triumph, filled with great music. And oozing joyful passion through, which is particularly clear in the final shot here of the Carnegie audience. Check the film out, it's available on Netflix.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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