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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Down from the Mountain (2000)

"I don't think you can really get this sound unless it's born into you."
- Ralph Stanley

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: October 17, 2001

Stars: Ralph Stanley, John Hartford, Gilian Welch, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris
Other Stars: The Cox Family, The Fairfield Four, Chris Thomas King, David Rawlings, The Whites
Director: Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:38m:04s
Release Date: October 23, 2001
UPC: 012236123248
Genre: folk


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BA- C

DVD Review

Months after viewing the Coen Brothers' wonderful O'Brother, Where Art Thou?, the element that really stands out is the excellent use of music to tell the story. The melodic bluegrass, blues, and gospel tunes flow perfectly with each scene to create a remarkable experience. While it exists apart from straightforward musicals, this film utilizes traditional folk songs that help to lead us on an enjoyable journey. Writer/director Joel Coen calls the movie a "valentine to the music." The soundtrack is virtually a required purchase for fans of these nostalgic tunes. Luckily, another avenue now exists to discover an even better, more intimate version of these melodies.

Down From the Mountain chronicles an extraordinary concert on May 24, 2000 from Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium and features many of the memorable tracks from O'Brother. Renowned documentary filmmakers Chris Hegedus (Startup.com), D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back), and Nick Doob take us behind the scenes with the talented artists who have shaped several genres throughout the past and today. All three directors worked on 1993's classic The War Room, and they inject this documentary with a similar intimate atmosphere that draws us directly into the theater. A benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame, this show features a score of amazing singers and musicians who dazzle the audience with unbelievable skill and precision.

Although a few songs are too traditional for my tastes, there's hardly a dull moment during the live footage. The impressive voices of The Fairfield Four open the show with Po Lazarusˇa soulful track that showcases their wide vocal range. Oddly, there are five members on stage, and the CD's liner notes list six people in the group. John Hartford introduces many of the acts and provides excellent fiddle work on Indian War Whoop. Chris Thomas King (who played Tommy Johnson in the film) displays his outstanding, bluesy voice on Moonshine Whiskey over a catchy bluegrass beat. Easily the highlight is Allison Krauss' chill-inducing rendition of Down in the River to Pray. The First Baptist Church Choir of White House, Tennessee provides harmonious backing vocals to the exceptional song.

This documentary outdoes the usual concert disc by presenting plenty of backstage material that discusses the allure of this type of music. The artists explain what drew them to the genre with an honest sincerity that heightens the impact of the show. An especially interesting figure is Dr. Ralph Stanleyˇa bluegrass legend who utilizes the "old-time mountain style" in his vocals. His voice may be a little more rickety than his younger days, but Stanley still possesses the power necessary to leave an audience spellbound. When he steps out on stage and gives a stunning version of O Death, the crowd sits in awed silence of his vocal presence.

One of the best aspects of Down From the Mountain is the pure love of the music conveyed by all of the artists involved. When Allison Krauss, Gilian Welch, and Emmylou Harris take the stage for Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby, there is no evidence of the egotistical bickering often inherent in today's music world. Backstage, the performers exhibit a down-to-earth demeanor that makes their ideas completely accessible and interesting. The young Peasall Sisters receive one of the greatest responses from the crowd, but they exude only a typical childlike enthusiasm for the material. The oldest girl could easily have developed an inflated view of her importance, but no traces exist in her energetic attitude. This high sense of cooperation and passion for the music exists throughout this concert, and it leads to a charming experience.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Down From the Mountain appears in a decent 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents an up close look of the concert. Shot entirely on digital video, the picture generally offers an impressive view with no apparent defects or grain. However, certain scenes lack the high level of clarity expected on the best transfers. While much of the shortcomings are attributable to the source material, it's surprising to see such a difference in the overall quality. Luckily, most of the scenes work nicely on this transfer, with only a few problems to lessen the overall experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track offers one of my best concert experiences to date, in terms of audio quality and depth. This transfer utilizes the surround speakers effectively and creates a complete feeling of being at the show. There's plenty of power throughout the sound field, and the music is clear and easily understandable. The clarity is startling at several moments when artists are called to the stage. The voice sounds like it springs directly from the living room, and the effect is surprising, even for DVDs. This disc also offers a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track, which works well enough, but lacks the complexity of its audio companion.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Song List
  2. Credits
  3. List of musicians
Extras Review: The disc contains a significant amount of extra features, but it lacks the most important element of a concert filmˇadditional scenes. This show obviously contains more songs than the ones featured in the movie, and a few inclusions would have been a nice supplement. It does offer impressive biographies and filmographies for directors Nick Dool, Chris Hegedus, and D.A. Pennebaker. The last two entries cover more than seven pages each and provide plenty of material on these renowned filmmakers. While this information is interesting, I would have preferred items on the artists instead of the directors.

Additional supplements include the basic credits, the theatrical trailer, and a list of the musicians and songs. The trailer comes in a nice widescreen picture and effectively translates the excitement of this picture.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Down From the Mountain presents a superb collection of musical talent together for one memorable concert of folk tunes. This documentary stands well as a concert film, but it also offers a personal look at the minds behind the songs. Although today's landscape is dominated by cookie-cutter pop music, real artists still exist to carry the torch for music fans everywhere.

 


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