Woodstock Film Festival, Day One: "Downtown Express"
Filed Under: Music & Film | Posted: 09/23/2011 at 9:11AM
Comments | Region: New York | United States
Downtown Express may be the most musical movie ever made. But I don’t mean just music, I mean performed music. There isn’t a precise word for this in English (though the word "performative" is lately used — an ugly adjective). I mean something like: "Downtown Express is the most MUSIC PLAYING movie ever made." In almost every scene, even walking down 57th Street (much of the movie takes place in Manhattan), a Scottish bagpiper in a kilt will materialize, or three brilliant African-American percussionists, playing on upturned plastic pails — real street musicians you know from taking the New York subway. My friends, The Xylofolks, who perform Dixieland jazz on the xylophone and bass while wearing costumes resembling giant stuffed animals, play a fast, dazzling song. The movie is about three Russian immigrants, all classical musicians, who form a trio called The Unique Quartet (but since they are Russian, they spell the second word "uneque") and play in front of the 42nd Street shuttle — the Grand Central Station end. The violinist, Sasha, sees Nellie McKay perform with her band one day, and falls in love with her, and her jazz-influenced rock. He joins her band, and the movie becomes a meditation on classical music vs. pop. You feel the textures of the two musics, which 40 years ago were absolute opposites, and today seem like cousins. Unspoken is the improvisational tradition of Classical music — Beethoven was a wild jazz musician, in truth — which has been long lost.
Everyone in the audience loved this movie, for personal, musical reasons. I cried at the end (which did not involve a kiss).