The Land Where the Blues Began (1979)

    Land Where Blues

    Expanded original. In 1978 Alan Lomax, John Bishop, and folklorist Worth Long set out to make a film in Mississippi that would be the equivalent of Lomax's classic LP, Blues in the Mississippi Night. With collaboration from Paula Tadlock and the Mississippi PBS station, they shot thirty-plus hours of blues singers, railroad crews, storytellers, church services, and picnics. This was edited into an hour-long program televised in Mississippi in 1980 and later restructured to fit the format of the American Patchwork series that aired on PBS in 1991. This is the original version, before it was edited for television, with more music and less narration, with sections omitted from the edit, 40 minutes of additional musical performances; the 30-minute first edit of the levee camp workers talking; a film about making the film based on John Bishop's 1978 journal that follows the chronology of the trip; a transcript of the film; and several articles in PDF format.

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    Rythms of the Earth

    Rhythms of Earth

    Survey the dazzling variety of dance, music, costume and public presentation of culture around the world with Dance and Human History, Step Style, Palm Play, and The Longest Trail by Alan Lomax and Forrestine Paulay. CINE Golden Eagle Awards, Dance Film Festival Awards, Margaret Mead Film Festival honorees.

    These four Choreometrics teaching films strikingly depict the patterns of movement that animate and distinguish cultures. Choreometrics, a decades-long research effort to develop an appropriate descriptive language for dance and movement at a cross-cultural level, was one of several studies of the world's diverse aesthetic patterns, measuring how variables of performance style cluster geographically and in relation to climate, subsistence, and fundamental aspects of social organization. Choreometrics has special meaning for a generation of ethnographic and documentary filmmakers who contributed their work to this global sample of dance, because it is one of a handful of efforts to discover meaning in documentary film footage beyond the story a filmmaker constructs. "We regard the vast, endlessly provocative, prejudice-laden, existing sea of documentary footage as the richest and most unequivocal storehouse of information about humanity. We come to it with an observational approach like that used by the ordinary person in everyday life, enabling him or her to differentiate constantly between different classes of visual experience" (Alan Lomax, 1976).

    This DVD features high-resolution Telecine transfers of the four original films, making them available for the first time in a decade. Choreometrics is contextualized and further explained in the supplementary videos and texts included in the package:

    • Dance & Human History (1974) examines two key parameters in the Choreometric study — trace forms and articulation of the torso — and shows how they may be related to geographical factors, technology, and basic forms of subsistence. (40 min.)
    • Step Style (1977) looks at the way the feet and legs are used in dance and work and how this may relate to cultural patterns. (30 min.)
    • Palm Play (1977). In some parts of the world people dance with their palms covered or turned in from sight while others openly present their palms to view. This film offers a novel explanation of the symbolism and cultural determinants of a universal dance element: palm gestures. (30 min.)
    • The Longest Trail (1986). This exploration of Native American dance traditions features more than 50 dances and recounts one of the great human adventures: the settlement of the New World by Siberian peoples coming across the Bering Straights land bridge 12,000 years ago. (60 min.)


    Special Features

    Screening Room: Alan Lomax (1974). Ethnographic filmmaker Robert Gardner interviews Alan Lomax about Dance & Human History. (34 min.)

    Short film illustrating the Global Jukebox. (1993, 10 min.)

    Interview with choreographer and dance analyst, Forrestine Paulay, on the perspectives and methodology of the Choreometrics system of dance and movement analysis. (2006, 17 min.)

    Conversation with Michael Del Rio, programmer of the Global Jukebox, and anthropologist and biostatistician, Michael Flory. (2006, 22 min.)

    Interview with Michael Flory on the statistical methods used in the Performance Style studies and the greater scope for such work today. (2008, 16 min.)

    PDF documents (177 pages):

    • Transcription of Screening Room interview.
    • Teaching Guide for The Longest Trail by Alan Lomax and Forrestine Paulay.
    • "Performance Style Research" by Anna L. Wood. Contexualizes the Choreometrics project. Extensive bibliographies.
    • "Choreometrics and Ethnographic Film" by Alan Lomax.
    • "Toward an Ethnographic Film Archive" by Alan Lomax.
    • "Alan Lomax: a Remembrance" by John Bishop.

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    Oss Tales

    Oss Tales DVD cover

    Padstow, a fishing village on the coast of Cornwall, celebrates May Day with a unique custom: two osses (hobbyhorses) dance through the town streets accompanied by drums and accordions. All Padstownians participate in this exciting event, which has now become a tourist attraction drawing over 30,000 visitors. This highly entertaining collection includes four films exploring older and contemporary manifestations of this jolly event. (All-region dual-sided NTSC/PAL DVD)

    Oss Oss Wee Oss (1953). Folklorists Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy, and filmmaker George Pickow filmed the festival in 1951, producing a pioneering work in the use of sound, low light photography, and conversational presentation of narrative. A favorite of Margaret Mead, who used it in her classes, it circulated widely and continues to have influence today, especially in the neo-Pagan community. New digital transfer of the original film. (18 min.)

    Oss Tales (2006). In 2004 filmmaker John Bishop and folklorist Sabina Magliocco returned to Padstow to see how the Cornish celebration of the arrival of summer was faring fifty years later. The film includes footage from Oss Oss Wee Oss and commentary by Peter Kennedy, Ronald Hutton, and the people of Padstow. (25 min.)

    Oss Oss Wee Oss Redux: Beltane in Berkeley (2004). A portrait of a contemporary pagan group in Berkeley, California, that reenacts the custom of the hobbyhorse during its May Day revelries. (14 min.)

    About the Oss Films (2007). George Pickow and Peter Kennedy talk about making the 1953 film. John Bishop and Sabina Magliocco speak about making the 2006 films reengaging the festival. (11 min.)

    Study Guide in PDF format

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    American Patchwork

    "America has a patchwork culture made of the dreams and songs of all its people". —Alan Lomax

    From 1978 to 1985 Alan Lomax traveled the American South and Southwest with a television crew to document regional folklore and its deep historical roots. The resulting 500 hours of footage became the five-program series American Patchwork, which aired on PBS in 1991. These award-winning films are an engaging exploration of our patchwork of cultures through its traditional music and folk expression.

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    The Land Where the Blues Began
    American Patchwork: The Land Where the Blues Began

    Alan Lomax, Worth Long, and John Bishop explore the enduring African-American performance traditions of the Mississippi Delta. Featuring bluesmen R. L. Burnside and Jack Owens; tall-tale tellers, fife and drum bands, and diddley-bow players; and former prisoners, railroad workers, and roustabouts singing field hollers, work chants, and levee camp songs. Produced with support from Mississippi Educational Television.

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    Jazz Parades: Feet Don't Fail Me Now
    American Patchwork: Jazz Parades

    A celebration of New Orleans musical culture from its piano bars and barrelhouses to brass bands and street parades, with their colorful, riotous, and emblematic second lines in which the community plays an essential role in the performance. Shot in the thick of funeral parades and nightclubs, with performances by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Danny Barker, Feet Don't Fail Me Now tells the story of New Orleans' unique and priceless jazz heritage.

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    Cajun Country: Lache Pas La Patate (Don't Drop the Potato)
    American Patchwork: Cajun Country

    The bayous of Louisiana have stirred French, German, West Indian, Native American, and hillbilly ingredients into a piquant cultural mix. Cajun Country takes us back to Cajun roots in Western France, visits their cattle drives, horse races, and barroom dances in rural Louisiana and listens to the salty tales and raunchy songs of its black, white, and Indian music-makers. Performers include Canray Fontenot, Bois Sec Ardoin, Michael Doucet, Octa Clark, Dewey Balfa, and Dennis McGee.

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    Appalachian Journey
    American Patchwork: Appalachian Journey

    Alan Lomax travels through the hills and hollers of the Southern Appalachians investigating the songs, dances, and religious rituals of the descendents of the Scotch-Irish frontier people who have made the mountains their home for centuries. Preachers, fiddlers, moonshiners, cloggers and square dancers recount the good times and hard times of rural life.

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    Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old
    American Patchwork: Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old

    The talents and wisdom of elderly musicians, singers, and storytellers, who perform not for fame or fortune but to preserve and share their culture. Stories told by Janie Hunter of Johns Island, S.C.; ballads sung by ex-coal miner and union organizer Nimrod Workman of Chatteroy, W.V.; fiddle tunes and tales of moonshiners and feuds from Tommy Jarrell of Toast, N.C.; and scenes of the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention in Fyffe, Alabama, where people of all ages gather to sing old-time shape-note hymnody.

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    Ballads, Blues & Bluegrass 1961

    Folk greats Clarence Ashley, Willie Dixon, Roscoe Holcombe, Peter Lafarge, Memphis Slim, Doc Watson, the New Lost City Ramblers, and more party at Alan Lomax's Greenwich Village apartment when the world was young.

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