Pete Seeger: The Power of Song - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song Reviews

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August 11, 2013
Awesome and inspiring movie. I loved it!
June 6, 2013
A Career Older Than Many Grandparents

Today, George Takei posted the obituary of a man who had personally saved the farms of three Japanese families during World War II. The families were, of course, interned, and if there were no one to pay mortgages and property taxes, the families would lose the farm. It happened to a lot of families during the war. This man quit his job and moved into the barracks intended for migrant farm workers; he kept the farms going, paid the bills, and only kept half the profits despite the families' agreement that he could keep all of it. The other half, he gave to the families. So what does he have to do with Pete Seeger? For one thing, this was a man quietly doing what needed to be done instead of what was most convenient. For another, Seeger's wife, Toshi-Aline Ōta, is herself of Japanese descent. She and Seeger married in 1943. She was not interned at the time. I don't know why and would quite like to.

Pete Seeger was born in 1919 to a musical family. His parents believed in spreading music to the masses, but it didn't take them long to discover that the masses had plenty of music of their own. The Seeger family got involved in folk music, and they have been ever since. Pete, what's more, got involved in the betterment of the masses beyond just sharing music. He became a Communist because he thought the Communists would do better for the people. (Well, in the '30s, that made a bit more sense, I suppose. A lot of people were fooled by Stalin, and US Communism was different.) Later, he got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, introducing "We Shall Overcome" to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As time passed, he became something of a poet laureate to the folk movement. He was blacklisted because of that past Communism, but he never entirely regretted it. He may have been the first to see the true junction of music and activism, and he helped others see it as well.

I have never been hugely familiar with his work, to be honest. He was a guest on [i]Reading Rainbow[/i] once, performing his own song and story. However, about the only folk music we listened to when I was a kid was Peter, Paul, and Mary. Even that was primarily when they did PBS specials; I don't really remember just listening to their music. (Now that I come to think about it, I don't remember Mom just listening to music very often at all.) However, I'm quite aware that the music I came to listen to myself would not have existed as it did without Pete Seeger. It isn't just Peter, Paul, and Mary or Joan Baez, though they're the most noteworthy examples. It is also, among other random examples, the fact that David Bowie initially performed as a folk singer when he was first getting his start in music. It's the influence Bob Dylan had after himself having been inspired by Pete Seeger. It goes on like that, because music history tends to overlap in that fashion more than I think most people realize.

I suppose one of the obvious problems with conveying such a rich and varied life as that of Pete Seeger in one brief documentary (only about an hour and a half) is that Seeger is also quite old. There is a lot of life both in what he did and how long he has lived; even a single decade of his life could easily take longer than this documentary provides. We only get a few minutes about his touring the world; the only person I can think of who has been to nearly as many countries is Michael Palin, and he got about six hours for a mere eighty days. We get ten or fifteen minutes of the honours he has gathered in recent years; about as long is dedicated to his time with The Weavers. There are many interviews with people he has known over the decades, including family members and students, but there is a great deal of life to be covered, and the film is too short. Of course, that's often a problem even with shorter, less crowded lives.

For nearly ninety years, Pete Seeger has been singing to change the world. Before him, that seemed impossible. Even today, there aren't a lot of people who manage it. Yes, the world of music changes all the time; the influence of musicians isn't straightforward. There are plenty of fans of both who would be shocked to discover a trail leading from Pete Seeger to Daft Punk, but it's there if you know what to look for. However, despite only having met Dr. King twice, Pete Seeger did have influence on the history of the Civil Rights Movement. His fight to overturn his conviction for contempt of Congress helped shape legal history. He has fought to improve the environmental standards of the Hudson River. Even when people don't agree with him, they have a hard time ignoring him. Over many decades, he has had a unique role in transforming the face of the United States. However, this documentary is not a full portrayal of the power of the man, and not just because it never talks about his wife's experiences during World War II.
½ November 30, 2012
I really didn't know how influential and powerful Pete Seeger has been! Learning this history was wonderful!
½ May 30, 2009
Don't know about Pete Seeger? Yes you do-- you just don't know it. This guy wrote "Turn, Turn, Turn" for the Byrds and "If I Had a Hammer" for Peter, Paul and Mary. He led anti-war movements with his banjo. He was banned from TV and radio for 20 years by the House Un-American Committee for thinking the way he wanted to. His banjo says, "With this machine I surround hate and force it to surrender." This guy is a true American patriot. I admire him HUGELY.
December 22, 2008
Superb movie.. I cried. What a wonderful man, and what a wonderful contribution to history he's made, and so humbly. I was so impressed, I'd no real idea who he was, being English, and am so glad I took the time to watch this piece of American history you can all be proud of. What a beautiful man. This movie also goes well with Bound for Glory, the Woodie Guthrie movie, which is also 5 stars for me.
½ December 18, 2008
An inspiring and engaging biography. Straightforward in its delivery, but surprisingly fresh and powerful when showing old performances or newsreel footage. That is certainly down to Seeger himself who is a fantastic character then and now. His performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" 40 years ago from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, resonates incredibly here and now. Contrast that with his loving, gentle performance of This Land Is Your Land to school children. The film could easily have been titled Pete Seeger: The Importance of Song. Highly Recommended.
December 13, 2008
Every now and then some artist seems to creep into your consciousness and BAM you wake up and realize that he/she has been part of MANY movements that have shaped our world. Pete Seeger's one of those guys. As I kid, I only knew him as the 'Little Boxes' singer. Later, as an activist, etc. Now I watched this film and realized how far he'd come in his life and it is truly amazing. And he kept singing the whole time. The world is a better place thanks to him.
½ November 16, 2008
pete can't sing a lick but then neither can bobby zimmerman. a hero and a citizen first who used music to inspire and challenge people to be better - he became popular in spite of himself. what a breath of fresh air that would be.
October 28, 2008
A true hero of Peace & Justice!
October 11, 2008
Amazing documentary on a guy I pretty much took for granted. Goes in depth in to not just the music but the man and the personal ideals behind it.
September 11, 2008
Pete Seeger is my hero (& has been since i was a kid). This doc captures the genius, clarity, & dedication of this extraordinary (ordinary) human being.
½ September 6, 2008
inspiring documentary. especially fitting during the election season, it shows how music can be one of the most powerful weapons that democracy has. (even when a government doesn't want to admit it)
½ September 6, 2008
Unfortunately, watched during Thirteen fund drive, so interrupted too frequently. Would have preferred greater emphasis on his music and influence than on his personal life, but still a fine documentary.
September 5, 2008
A nice overview of Pete Seeger's life and work. That he was blacklisted for like 17 years just seems utterly bizarre.
August 30, 2008
a great story about a great man who played and sang great songs for a better world
August 17, 2008
Seeger was persecuted by the federal government because he invoked the 1st amendment instead of the 5th. This guy is a modern saint. This documentary does a nice job of featuring someone that our country should be honoring as a national hero for what he's done over the past century.
½ August 13, 2008
While the actual film itself may be nly a slight cut above the average music doco, the content and the spirit of the subject is wonderfully presented and it's an ultimately life-affirming experience. Brilliant stuff, and an amazing man. One of the best music documentaries in years.
½ August 6, 2008
im certain pete seeger is one of the greatest men of out time. a moralistic and spiritual human being in every since of the word. in the almost 90 years he's been alive he has been completely unwaivering in his drive to bring people together, and to change the world. a true inspiration.
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