Clas­si­cal in the Blue­grass State

Los Angeles Times - - Movies -

The sem­i­nal story of how mod­ern clas­si­cal mu­sic turned Louisville, Ken., into a mid-20th cen­tury cul­tural phe­nom­e­non feels far less thrilling than it should, at least in the hands of co-di­rec­tors Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler.

That’s be­cause their doc­u­men­tary, “Mu­sic Makes a City,” de­spite its gor­geous sound­track, his­tor­i­cal sweep and wealth of archival ma­te­rial, is weak­ened by slug­gish pac­ing and an overly de­tailed, in­creas­ingly nar­row fo­cus.

Singer-song­writer-ac­tor Will Oldham’s lec­ture-like nar­ra­tion tells how the 1937 for­ma­tion of the Louisville Or­ches­tra helped re­ju­ve­nate the city af­ter the Great De­pres­sion and, later, a dev­as­tat­ing flood.

By the early 1950s, led by con­duc­tor Robert Whit­ney and cham­pi­oned by Louisville’s pro­gres­sive, arts-lov­ing mayor, Charles Farns­ley, the en­sem­ble be­came a spir­i­tual home for ma­jor com­posers from around the world — Lukas Foss, Chou Wen-chung and El­liott Carter, among many oth­ers — whose work was fa­mously com­mis­sioned, pre­miered and recorded by the or­ches­tra.

This vi­sion­ary ap­proach also at­tracted such lu­mi­nar­ies as dancer Martha Gra­ham and con­duc­tor Dmitri Shostakovich.

It’s amaz­ing stuff, which the film­mak­ers strangely fail to frame within a cur­rent con­text.

Still, in­ter­views here with a range of Louisville Or­ches­tra mu­si­cians and com­posers as well as var­i­ous home­town ob­servers are rich. And key mu­si­cal in­ter­ludes, set to rev­er­ent, post­card-pretty land­scapes, are stir­ring to hear, though frankly dull to watch.

— Gary Gold­stein “Mu­sic Makes a City.” MPAA rat­ing: Un­rated. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 40 min­utes. At Laemmle’s Sun­set 5, West Hollywood.

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