The "Best" Carter Family Documentary, If Only Because It Is
Bryan E. Leed | Dayton, OH USA | 07/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE CARTER FAMILY: WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN is an interesting DVD documentary from PBS, but it really could have easily been made better. As it is, it is still the only documentary available on DVD, and it is quite interesting.
It fits well as a companion piece to the book WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE? by Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg. Zwonitzer appears frequently throughout this DVD.
This DVD is about 50 minutes long, with about 19 minutes of bonus material. They use actors to recreate some scenes, but they should have marked these scenes as "recreations." Too often they show old, generic footage, or recreations, without captioning it as stock footage or recreations. If you didn't know better, you might think you were seeing the actual, original Carter Family in action, but you're not.
There is NO actual moving pictures of the original Carter Family on the DVD, though Maybelle and Sara appear too briefly in b/w TV and moving film footage, presumably from the 1950's (Maybelle on TV, playing some of "Wildwood Flower") and in the 1960s, (Sara and Maybelle, elderly but still sounding great, standing around outside, playing "Sweet Fern" for the camera, appearing as the credits rollover the picture at the end of the DVD).
It is really frustrating that they did not include these two songs as DVD bonuses, in a COMPLETE song version! Especially since the rest of the DVD uses only still photos of the three original Carter Family members.
The DVD explains a lot about their lives before the music business, the formation of the group, and the business and cultural circumstances of their influential careers! I watched this DVD after finishing my reading of the book WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE? and I very much enjoyed what is on this DVD. I just wish they had shared more of the live action footage that they had access to!
There are many still photos shown of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle which I had not seen before. The best quality photos come from an aborted LIFE MAGAZINE photo shoot for a cover story, which potentially would have boosted their careers, but was ill-timed and got bumped when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, and so the Carter story got pulled out, and was unfortunately never ran later!
The DVD tells the story of the strained marriage of A.P. and Sara, with a little more weight than what we are perhaps used to in 2006. I grew up in a family shattered by divorce, and I take too much of that grief for granted, maybe most of the Western culture does, since it seems to have happened to nearly everybody's family. Perhaps we really should recognize A.P. and Sara's failed marriage as the family tragedy that it is, but it does sound strange to hear the divorce described as some huge tragedy unique to this very famous family. It is as if the music business chores destroyed their marriage, and A.P. could never had guessed the incredibly high price he would pay, with his broken marriage, to establish and maintain the Carter Family career.
Sara Carter comes off as one of the earliest "feminists" in the entertainment industry. They showcase a recreation of them recording "Single Girl, Married Girl," their first big hit, which has lyrics that envy the "freedom" of a single woman who can go have fun, while lamenting the responsibilties of a married mother and wife who envies the single girl. I don't applaud this sentiment, nor do I agree with it, but this is a fact that this was their first big hit, and an early feminist "anthem" of sorts, back in the late 1920's.
The DVD later shows how Sara pitches her marriage to an angry and unresponsive A.P., to have an affair with her husband's cousing, Coy Bayes, whom she would eventually marry, many lonely years later. A true family tragedy, yet all too common today. I wish it were a unique situation, but I grew up with that kind of situation in my parents marriage, too. It is heartbreaking.
The DVD extras last about 19 minutes and show people talking about Maybelle's guitar and her guitar playing techniques. They also show The Carter Fold, which is a weekly musical showcase hosted by the daughter of A.P. which is still going on today! Check it out!
If you are a serious Carter Family fan, then you will be happy to see this documentary, but you will likely wonder why they did not max out the possibilities when they had some really rare, great footage that went so underused in the final cut.
Besides the biography book, WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE?, I can also highly recommend the CD collections from JSP Records, THE CARTER FAMILY 1927-1934, and THE CARTER FAMILY 1935-1941, which are the best and most comprehensive CD collections currently in print and available on amazon.com; VERY REASONABLY PRICED at about $25 per 5 CD set (which is about $5 per CD). Both sets feature 5 CDs that are completely loaded with just about every thing that the original Carter Family recorded in the studio during their 15 year career. These CDs sound pretty good (allowing for how PRIMITIVE these 80 year old original recordings are, from the dawn of the music industry as we know it), and they are the easiest way to get nearly all the Carter Family's music quickly (and before these go out of print, too, so hurry up and get yours)."
Good history of the Carter Family
Jan Cameron | Seattle, WA | 12/19/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I would have given this five stars if it weren't for not enough coverage of Maybelle Carter's contribution to country music, especially her (at the time) innovative method of playing the guitar so that it sounded like two guitars. After the Carter Family broke up circa 1943, she toured with her three daughters as "Mother" Maybelle Carter and was sought for counsel for decades afterward. She was also the centerpiece of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bands 1971 recording "Will the Circle be Unbroken".
A lot of the DVD focuses on A.P. and Sara's marital woes, neither of whom, in my estimation, contributed as much to country music as Maybelle.
This is a good history, however, for country music history enthusiasts.
Good, but lacking
T. Morrison | Eagan, MN | 04/25/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I actually give this 3.5 stars, but I am rounding up for effort.
This is a good companion video to the book Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?, the definitive Carter Family biography. I can't think of anything from the program that isn't covered in the book. There is the added element of direct comments from various musicians and writers about the Carter Family, including Jeanette and Joe Carter, two of A.P. and Sara's children. Mark Zwonitzer, co-author of the book, is also featured quite extensively in the program. With a running time of one hour, the program really only gives the Cliff Notes version of the Carter Family story.
As another reviewer pointed out, the focus is on A.P. and Sara's relationship and less on Maybelle Carter's contribution. I understand the feeling -- Maybelle would merit a documentary all her own -- but we wouldn't have had the Carter Family were it not for A.P. and Sara. All stories have a beginning.
We are treated to a clip of Maybelle performing "Wildwood Flower" for a TV program sometime in the 50s. This is somewhat marred by the voiceovers the director chose to place during the scene. The clip is repeated with fewer distractions on one of the disc's supplements, but it would have been nice to have it in its uninterrupted entirety. There is also some footage of Maybelle and Sara performing together in the 60s at the end of the program.
Extras include footage from the Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Maybelle's guitar and a small bit about her playing technique (which is covered in the main program), a very brief history of the guitar in American music, and a short piece about the Carter Family Fold, the museum and performance space that continues to exist today.
All in all, it was an interesting program to watch, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it could have been more. Perhaps this will open the door for a more extensive documentary in the future. Also, with the success of Walk the Line, could a feature film of the Carter Family be close behind?"
Three Cheers For the Carter Family
E. F. Simons | 01/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Carters, along with Jimmy Rodgers, are the true heroes of pure country music. The so called evolution into the electrified contemporary offerings by sequined faux country performers is comparable to the moving of melodious music into acid rock.
Music by the Carter Family deserves to be in the collection of anyone who values our heritage."