The story of how Nora Guthrie and British songwriter and political activist Billy Bragg, together with alternative country band, Wilco brought Woody Guthrie's words to life and created the Grammy-nominated albums Mermaid A... more »venue and Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2. The life and music of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie (writer of "This Land Is Your Land" and author of Bound for Glory) has influenced every generation that followed him. Thirty years after his death, his daughter Nora Guthrie sought out Billy Bragg to write songs and record Woody's unpublished lyrics. Shot over a period of two years, Man in the Sand follows Billy on a journey that takes him to Okemah, Oklahoma, Woody's birthplace, to Pampa, Texas, where Woody started playing music professionally and New York City where Woody wrote many of his lyrics. Man in the Sand takes you to Billys home in London where Mermaid Avenue begins to take shape. He meets up with Wilco in their hometown of Chicago, travels to record two tracks with Natalie Merchant in Boston and finally on to a Dublin studio where Mermaid Avenue comes together. Man in the Sand reveals the often emotional collaborative process between Billy, Jeff Tweedy and the members of Wilco. Narrated by Nora Guthrie, this 90-minute feature film offers insight into a unique recording project that breathes life into Woody Guthrie's 50-year-old words.« less
"No doubt this disc is going to be positioned in the bins as a documentary on the making of the two Billy Bragg & Wilco "Mermaid Avenue" records. I think there's a bit more to it. In a grand sense, this is a road movie. We have a person on a quest (of sorts). Billy Bragg comes to the United States to get a handle/perspective on his project: The creation and recording of some new songs, built on 40+ year old lyrics from Woody Guthrie that have been barely seen and never heard. "Man In The Sand" has a few rough spots. As Bragg does his "Driveabout" in OK and TX, it's both funny and tragic watching him behave like he's on safari in the 1890s, rather than traveling to a not so foreign country in the 1990s. While trying to pay respect to Guthrie, Bragg's cultural/class snobbery is both intact and palpable (along with the irony). The filmmakers get a pat on the back for showing that bit. The filmmakers do get it wrong in places. Frankly, I could have done without Bragg's home life, and instead used the time for delving into three areas/topics. First, show more of the music making process. Second, more explanation of how and why Wilco and Natalie Merchant were brought into the project. Third, if you are going to introduce the idea of creative strife at all, lay it all out. Don't dance around it, then suggest the reason you're going low key is that you don't want to overshadow the music. All of this can be easily attributed to being a BBC production. Meaning, we don't know the original intent of the documentary. On the other hand, I've come to expect nothing but top drawer from the Beeb. "Man In The Sand" falls short. But, we were talking about a road movie. A road movie needs the participants to be in love with something elusive, and this movie has got it to spare. It is so obvious that Bragg, Wilco, and Merchant are totally in love with making the music. It's also wonderful to watch Nora (Woody's daughter) fall in love with her father, despite all of his shortcomings, on a level that she never could if he were alive. This movie is about the search in (of) making music, and, what everybody finds. Not only do we get a glimpse of where the muse led Guthrie yesterday, but we see several people courting the muse today. By the end of the movie, the context Bragg was searching for begins to sink in. Perhaps more important, we see it's because of Nora and her stories, not Bragg following his road map and waiting for lightning to strike. The disc looks and sounds wonderful. The five extra tracks (Bragg's demos for "Birds And Ships," "She Came Along To See," "I Guess I Planted," "Eisler On The Go," and "The Unwelcome Guest.") are certainly worth a spin. Fans of Bragg's may wince a bit, and Wilco worshippers are going to feel cheated. Those interested in the process of making music, period, are going to be the ones who come out ahead."
zooey91 | San Francisco, CA United States | 06/21/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"OK, perhaps the British have a hard time suppressing their contempt for Americans, but isn't it disingenuous to let it show through in a documentary centering around Woody Guthrie? I enjoyed much of this documentary in spite of the limited talents of the filmmakers, as Mr. Bragg, Mr. Guthrie, and Wilco were all compelling enough to hold my attention. But it is rather ignorant of the filmmakers to assume that those wishing to see such a document would have little to no interest in Wilco, who were more than minor participants in the project. Instead, they attempt to present typical British tabloid journalism, trying to recreate "Let It Be" by fomenting a minor dispute between the songwriters. The best parts of this, for me, were the tidbits of Jeff Tweedy singing Guthrie's words, but they were scarce. The filmmakers never even said anything about how Wilco were brought into the project to begin with."
Woody's Ghost & A Patchwork Quilt
Theo Logos | Pittsburgh, PA | 04/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary resembles a crazy, patchwork quilt, thus, more so than usual, your reactions to it are likely to be shaped by what interests and expectations you bring with you. On the surface, it is a documentary on the making of the two `Mermaid Ave' albums - a project initiated by Nora Guthrie to resurrect a portion of the thousands of lyrics that her father, Woody, had left behind, sans music, and put them before the public. She asked Billy Bragg to take on the project because she felt that his passion and politics was a match to those of her late father. At some point, (left unexplained by the documentary) the band Wilco came into the project as collaborators with Bragg. The film, therefore, has an overabundance of strong characters, all with devoted followings, that it has to try to blend into the mix - Bragg, Wilco, and the ghost of Woody Guthrie as personified through his daughter. Fans of Wilco are most likely to be disappointed with `Man in the Sand'. As already mentioned, it neglects even to mention how they came into the project, and Bragg gets much more screen time, even though the musical collaboration between them seems to have been fairly evenly split. Still, what we do see of them here shines, both in their studio work and their witty banter with Bragg in discussing the project. Bragg is covered more extensively, and he has an awkward charm that works well in the film, as the personal imperfections that it exposes give a great air of honesty and authenticy. My primary interest in `Man in the Sand' was neither Billy Bragg nor Wilco, but rather Woody Guthrie and his music. Woody's ghost is the real star here. Throughout the film, Nora Guthrie tells the tales of Woody's life, both in conversations with Bragg, and directly to the microphone, as she explores the legacy of her famous father whom she knows more through his work and legend than she ever did from life. There is nothing new in these stories for most of Woody's fans, but the mix of pride, tenderness, and sorrow in Nora's evocative performance is so raw, honest, and touching as not to be missed. And the power of Woody's writing, to reach down through generations and inspire artists like Bragg and Wilco to create such powerful music in collaboration with his ghost is stunning, and a true tribute to the man. `Man in the Sand' is an imperfect documentary, but still more than worth your time. Ultimately, it is both Nora Guthrie's evocation of her legendary father's ghost and the peek at the process of two strong willed collaborators with that ghost creating dynamic songs that speak across generations that make `Man in the Sand' worth a look. If that process interests you, then I recommend that you check it out.
Theo Logos "
Joshua Buckley | Seattle, WA USA | 03/10/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Man in the Sand should sit beside The Last Waltz, Let it Be and Ladies and Gentlemen the Rolling Stones. Not Since Rattle and Hum has there been a movie that captures the true craftsmenship that Bragg and Wilco bring to this project. Bragg spoke: "I'm on a quest. I'm searching for the spirit of Woody Guthrie", and that's where they (Wilco/Bragg) take us. So sit back and enjoy two of todays gretest songwriters as they take us on a musical journy towards the spirt hope and love that was brought forth by non other then Woody Guthrie."
Tweedy's Ego Prevalent Here Too
zooey91 | 08/27/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am a long time fan of the band Uncle Tupelo which was fronted by Jeffy Tweedy (Wilco) and Jay Farrar (Son Volt, now doing ... solo material). That was my reason for initially watching this DVD as well as the fact that I happen to like Billy Bragg. If you are a fan of either one of them you'll love this DVD.... and unless you have no sense of the history of American music, you'll learn to appreciate Guthry as well. I particularly liked the on location stuff where they were hunting down Woody's past... a real slice of life. The most interesting part was Tweedy's personal digs on both Bragg and Farrar as collaborators..... seems there is not enough room for himself, his ego and another front man to be happily on stage at the same time....bottom line, great video."