Pete Seeger: The Power of Song review by DrunkyI've never heard of Pete Seeger. A quick online search told me that he's folk musician from the 40's, 50's and 60's. Ive never really listened to the stuff from the earlier American "folk" music revival (Woody Guthrie, Peter/Paul/Mary), but I consider myself pretty open to it. I definitely like the mainstream next generation of folk: I own a Bob Dylan box set and I'm a big fan of the DVD A Songs Best Friend: John Denver Remembered. So I thought I might discover something I liked in Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.
I discovered something I disliked. An experience that felt like 93 minutes of communist propaganda from director Jim Brown. You see, Pete Seeger was also a political (and later, environmental and anti-war) activist, and a card-carrying member of the communist party. The 40's were a time when communism had recently breached the Western Hemisphere, gaining some foothold in Cuban government. As such, there was some fear among the American populace of a similar 'infiltration' in the United States, and the country was on a bit of a lookout for "commies." As a result, Seeger's association with the communist party got him "blacklisted" by many of the powers-that-be.
This film paints Pete Seeger as a great American patriot, and how those powers-that-be tried to keep him from spreading his wonderful messages, but that the message could ultimately not be stopped. It progresses with a little bit of Pete's life & his music, then onto some political stuff, then a little more about Pete/music, then back to more politics, then more music, etc. But the driving theme in the film is the communist association and the selective truths offered are more one-sided than what you'd find in a Michael Moore movie. I wondered whether director Jim Brown is pro-communism/socialism and creating a propaganda film here. Because it sure felt like it. Of course, its more likely that he's just trying to infuse the story with more drama, taking more liberties with one-sided portrayal than is normally seen in a documentary. At any rate, it was a bit insulting. And frankly, the fact that communism is destructive both to individual liberties and to the overall society which it purports to enhance, makes it hard to get behind Pete Seeger as the misunderstood protagonist. The film portrays Seeger as being persecuted, or at least shunned a bit, for his beliefs. And oh the irony of supposed evil commie being the one trying to do good things while the supposed great freedom of American democracy is the one doing the controlling and the depriving of rights! Hey, as an analogy you have the freedom to believe that the age for statutory rape should be lowered to age eleven. And you may have noble intentions and believe that its a terrible injustice that eleven year olds are effectively being denied the freedom to have sex with old people. But dont expect to be embraced by all of society.
I dont doubt that Pete Seeger has good intentions. Hes done some good things, including the Hudson River cleanup. But he was politically naive. 'Let's all work together for the greater good! It sounds good to Pete so he's behind it. But that's naive to the impossibility of true communism as a sustainable form of government. That's naive to the eventual tragic implications of such a type of system on individual liberties. Is Pete Seeger a progressive guy who adamantly defends the right to free expression? Keep in mind Pete Seeger once yanked the cord out of Bob Dylan's electric guitar on stage because he didn't like the movement away from acoustic instruments (a tidbit not included in the documentary). Is that a progressive thinker? Is that someone allowing others to freely express themselves?
So the politics of the film are tough to swallow, but how about the music? Well, it doesn't add much. Seeger's most recognizable song is Turn, Turn, Turn (popularized by The Byrds). The power of his music is that his songs generally have some nice universal truths (Where Have All The Flowers Gone?). Unfortunately unless youre buying into the politics that dominate this documentary then those songs dont lend any emotional weight. And they aren't great songs musically, just mediocre. Pete Seeger himself isn't much of a singer. He does seem to play a mean banjo, but there's a grand total of about ten seconds of that offered in this film.
If you can't get enough of anything to do with folk music, or you were hoping Hillary Clinton was going to be President and give you some "free" health care then you might enjoy Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Otherwise, youll be either bored and/or aggravated.
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