Izzy Young – Talking Folklore Center (2015)

by | Sep 28, 2015 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Izzy Young – Talking Folklore Center (2015)

Cast: Izzy Young; Allen Ginsburg; The Fugs; Pete Seeger, Ed Koch; Heather Wood; John Herald; Danny Kalb; Marc Silber; Arthur Levy; Art D’Lugoff and others.
TrackList: Talking Folklore Center (Bob Dylan); Fiddler Tune; A Plea For Order; Little Rain; Oh Mary Don’t You Weep;; Me, The Blues And Ones; Father Death Blues (Allen Ginsburg); Four; Who Calls The Tune Must Pay The Piper; Poem (Ed Sanders); As The Years Go Passing By; Traditional Song; Living In The Country (Pete Seeger); Hole In The Bucket; Cabbage Head; Goodnight Irene; Ett Nytt Mote (Jan Erik Vold)
Studio: MVD Visual MVD5215D [8/14/15]
Director:  Jim Downing
Audio: PCM Stereo
Video: 4×3, color/ b&w
Length: 50 minutes
Ratings:   Audio: ***1/2    Video: ***1/2   Overall: ****

The musical culture was prepared for a significant transition in the late fifties. The epicenter of jazz, Greenwich Village, was becoming a haven for poets and more significantly, folk singers. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Allen Ginsburg and Jack Keruoac were the new generation of a restless America. While folk music was around for decades, it would experience a revival in the early Sixties. Veterans like The Weavers (Pete Seeger) and Dave Van Ronk, were joined by a ragged assortment of younger folk/blues enthusiasts. Among them was a troubadour from Minnesota named Bob Dylan. The gathering place for these musicians was The Folklore center on MacDougal Street, owned and operated by Israel “Izzy” Young. This individual became an impresario, guru and patron of the folk movement.

MVD Visual has released a DVD titled Izzy YoungTalking Folklore Center that explores the history of this iconic location and its influence on the artistic culture. It is a concise (52 minutes), charming film that attempts to connect Young’s past and present life. The film opens (with Eric Bibb doing a version of Bob Dylan’s “Talking Folklore Center”) in Stockholm. It is 1989 and Young is still doing his thing. This documentary doesn’t just talk about music, it has great clips. Carolyn Dutton performs a sparkling violin number (“Fiddler Tune”) at a radio concert. Former Blues Project member Danny Kolb does a gritty blues number and Heather Wood offers a wildly comical anti-war protest ditty.  Izzy Young embarks on a journey to Greenwich Village to reflect on his earlier career. Only a few of the old buildings are there, among them The Village Gate. Young recalls the 1961 Free Speech protest (a first of its kind) with stunning black & white footage of the demonstration. In a juxtaposition, a color film snippet of an a capella group singing “Hey There Lonely Girl” makes a case for the necessity of such protests. He reminisces with legendary club owner Art D’lugoff about the historical significance of MacDougal Street, home to poets and writers since World War I. There are scenes of an enthusiastic Young peering through empty storefronts, even a keyhole.

While Izzy is melancholic about the change in Greenwich Village, he exudes pathos and humor. He talks to a newsstand operator who is still there. One of the highlights is his visit with Allen Ginsburg who sings “Father Death Blues”. The streets of The Village still teem with music as Young gives some change to a street poet and a jazz duo. A hysterical meeting with corporate bigshot Allen Levy (who is advising Young on how he could start over and merchandise The Folklore Center) is ironically appropriate. Another highlight is the meeting with Pete Seeger. Seeger performs on a twelve string acoustic with banjo picks. His deconstruction of his own musical performance style is interesting. He does a sing and chat on banjo (“Cabbage Head”) that is quintessential Seeger. There is a poetic flow to the movie. As Young returns to Sweden, he is setting up chairs for a performance (to the sounds of Miles Davis), as if things never changed. There is a fair amount of attention to underground heroes, The Fugs. Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg recite poems. Singer John Herald leads a group in a lovely version of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”

Izzy YoungThe Folklore Center is a warm glimpse into musical history. The audio is good, the dialogue is clear and the stereo mix is adequate. The filming is intimate, not obtrusive, and does not rely on gimmickry. The story is compelling.

—Robbie Gerson

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