Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Wainwrights honor mom with Lunson's SING ME the SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU

It's an odd but interesting experience to first become acquainted with a songwriter/
performer via the memorial concert that honors her life and death. Yet that's how it was for TrustMovies, as he watched the new musical documentary SING ME THE SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU: A CONCERT FOR KATE McGARRIGLE. He'd heard McGarrigle's name over time but did not know she was the mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, but he had also not heard any of her songs that he was aware of. So the movie proved to be a kind of simultaneous introduction and good-bye.

Speaking quite honestly, it took me some time during this 108-minute film -- co-written (with the Wainwright siblings), directed and edited by Lian Lunson (shown at left) -- to warm up to the subject and her music. I finally did, more and more as the documentary moved on, and I am very glad I saw it. I believe that Sing/Love/Kate (as I'll call it for the sake of space) will prove something major for McGarrigle's many fans and might bring in some new ones like me, if they can be persuaded to see it. Ms Lunson has shot her film and the concert from which it is mostly taken in both color and black-and-white. Initially, it seems that color is used for the concert footage and black-and-white for the interviews and archival footage. But this division eventually crumbles, as black-and-white is used more and more often throughout.

Archival footage -- moving pictures and stills, even a letter from Daddy -- are shown and sometimes spoken, often against the music and song that McGarrigle created, and between the performance of the many musical numbers, we hear the assembled parties talk about Kate and her life and her music. (I realize that fans and friends will undoubtedly know who all these people are, but I wish that Ms Lunson has identified them more often as her movie unfurled.)

Evidently, this is one big musical family, where everyone was expected to join in, and some of the remembrances, especially by Rufus, are odd, charming and funny. Despite all this, the movie, so far as regards Kate McGarrigle, comes across as surprisingly impersonal. At the end of it, I had little more knowledge of the woman than I had at the beginning, though I at least have begun to know her music. This may be because the filmmakers already knew all this information, as do probably her many friends and fans. But movie audiences with less history could have used a boost.

Still, as this is basically a concert film, it's the music that counts most, and here, the movie hits it in spades. There are songs not only written by Kate McGarrigle but by others in the family (Heart Like a Wheel), and the performers who sing them include not only family members such as Rufus, Martha and Kate's sisters Anna and Jane but friends like Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones (above) -- not to mention a surprise visit and song from Jimmy Fallon and another wonderful performer who had me asking, "Is that a man or a woman?" When the end credits rolled I realized who this was: Justin Vivian Bond.

Some of the songs, to my taste were were a little tiresome and repetitive (you can often complete Kate's lyrics upon hearing the song for the first time), but others seemed quite wonderful -- Mendocino, Proserpina (the final song that Kate wrote, a lovely rendition of the Persephone myth), and that terrific song by Ms/Mr. Bond. Some of the harmonies we hear are simply gorgeous, and each performer -- family member or friend -- has his/her own distinctive style, with Rufus' coming through perhaps the strongest.

This fellow (shown above with Martha and further above, solo) has always struck me as something of a drama queen, but seeing as how this is all about his late mother, why not? Tears flow rather copiously from many of the performers throughout the film, until the concert doubles as a kind of musical "wake." And the story told here of Kate's final time is undeniably moving -- as is the final photo we see of the artist as a young woman, below.

Sing/Love/Kate -- a Canadian film via Horse Pictures that runs 108 minutes -- opens today for a two-week stint at New York City's Film Forum. Elsewhere? I would hope so -- certainly around Canada, if not the USA. I can't find the web site for Horse Pictures to check further, so if any of you know where that can be found, inform me.

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