Author: Kuster, Ted

What we need is another bluegrass movie

There’s nothing quite as much fun as playing to a roomful of people who don’t know bluegrass from a hole in the ground.

I like picking for a picking audience too, don’t get me wrong. The punishment, I mean feedback, is invaluable and I always come away a better player for it. But a crowd of civilians – infidels, we could call them – gives you something different.
These people are hearing this stuff for the first time, or at least for the first time in ages, and if you want to, you can hear it fresh through their ears. Usually, they go nuts. You can see it in their faces. They grin as they suddenly remember how much they like bluegrass, and they want more. Then they go home humming your tunes, and you never see them until something, like a movie, puts them in mind of bluegrass again.

Sometimes it seems like awareness of bluegrass in the wider world rises and falls with the attention it gets in Hollywood. For most of the folks in a regular non-bluegrass crowd, the last time they saw a banjo up close was in a movie. We get a sort of mini-revival in the genre every time Tommy Lee Jones puts on his hat and his accent and starts arresting rednecks.

Imagine seeing Bonnie and Clyde and hearing a banjo snarl like that for the first time. That will stick with you long after you’ve forgotten how handsome Warren Beatty was. Does anybody remember anything about that movie besides “Foggy Mountain Breakdown?” Does anybody remember anything about “Deliverance” besides “Dueling Banjos?” I don’t think so.

It’s been a while since we got any attention over there. “O Brother Where Art Thou” came out in 2000, which is a long time ago, even for a genre that measures time in pretty big chunks. Who will make the next bluegrass movie?
I suppose the Coen brothers’ shtick has run its course by now. The next one will have to be different. Our new movie speak to the zeitgeist of this decade. In other words, it will need to have vampires, or zombies, or both.

Zombieland (2009) was a start. The main thing people remember about that movie is that it featured a banjo. Sadly, for the theatrical release they had to take out all the footage in which Woody Harrelson actually plays the instrument. I look forward to seeing that in the director’s cut. But the deft way he wielded it in self-defense exposed millions of viewers to the second most popular use of the banjo.

So I’ll just keep working on my screenplay here, and if you run into anybody who can greenlight movie projects, feel free to give them my name. I bring my little flip camera to all the gigs. The next time I get a drunken request for “that Oh Brother song,” I’m going to turn it around, point it at the audience and start rolling film.

Posted:  1/29/2013

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