Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack 4 Stars

With The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, Aiyana Elliott paints a loving portrait of the life of her father, legendary folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and his triumphs and tragedies.

The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack follows Jack from his roots in New York City to the odd choice as a teenager to join the rodeo to his eventual rise as America’s pre-eminent folksinger. Mentored by Woody Guthrie, Elliott in turn mentored a young Bob Dylan, but as Dylan’s star rose, Elliott felt brushed aside. Travelling to Europe, where, ironically, American roots music was more appreciated than at home, Elliott cultivated a loving fan base. Unfortunately, as his popularity abroad waned, Elliot found himself an almost forgotten footnote. He all but gave up music to become a cowboy and a boatswain. In the Nineties, he reaped the fruits of a folk music renaissance and continues to tour extensively.

In the meantime, he had a daughter he barely sees.

And that’s what makes The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack unique.

The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack isn’t merely a document of Jack’s life story or a tribute to the music he has created. This beautiful, moving film is the deeply personal story of Aiyana’s search for a closer connection with her father and a meaning to his ramblin’. Aiyana uses Ramblin’ Jack’s life to frame an investigation of why he chose the road over his family. But her agenda never gets in the way of spinning Jack’s tale. She deftly avoids the pitfalls of personal documentary filmmaking, never becoming maudlin, or so self-centered that the film’s subject is eclipsed. Instead, Aiyana’s search for the answer illuminates even more about the man’s life and his work

A funny, touching, beautiful documentary, The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack premiered in competition at The Sundance Film Festival, ultimately garnering the Special Jury Prize for Artistic Achievement.

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