Movie Review: Fiddlin'

By Thom Compton 25.10.2019


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Fiddlin' (UK Rating: Unrated): The fiddle is, to some people's surprise, just another name for the violin. The difference is the way they are played artistically. While the violin is played in a slower, more concise manner, a fiddle is played in a manner more meant to illicit dancing, generally being more jovial and erratic in sound.  Fiddlin' is about much more than just the instrument though - in fact, many of the films featured talent isn't even playing it.  It's about Old Time music, Bluegrass, and the people who make up its hallowed halls, both past and present.

If you head down Hwy 77, you may stumble across a little town called Galax in Virginia. It's right on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, and beyond that fact, it wouldn't be unthinkable that the town isn't known for much else.  It's not a household name after all.  That is, unless you are a diehard fan of Old Time or Bluegrass music. Every year they have a large competition where everyone, from the listener, to the savant player, come together to celebrate the music, traditions, and the people behind it all.

Fiddlin' is, if nothing else, a smart film for the fact that there is no narration. It allows the people who have been impacted by this music to guide the film. Instead of some far removed voice guiding the experience, the musicians shape the experience the audience is guided on, and this is for the better. Fortunately, the film also does wonders when it comes to how it frames everything.

There's an almost opera style to the whole presentation. Rarely is there not a guitar, mandolin, or fiddle playing in the background, even if it isn't blaring - and luckily it's not.  While the transitions occasionally feel like they may be getting reused, it's not too much of an issue. In fact, it's not too common throughout the films 90-minute run time, so it's an easily forgiven flaw.


 

The films bigger focus is the people and their traditions. One of the highlights is the relationship between Luthier Wayne and his prodigy of sorts, Presley. Presley's only been playing a few years now, and you'd be forgiven for thinking he's been playing since he was first brought into the world. His grace as his fingers dance around the neck of his guitar is sublime, and a lot of the credit goes to the older Wayne.
 
Wayne is actually a large focal point of the film, and thankfully so. He is a lovely man to listen to, and his stories, while not always guided and well-structured (this is a real human being talking after all), are delightful. Even those with less screen time, like Ivy and Eddie, are instantly likable, and there are no clear duds in terms of interviewees. It would be fair to write off a real human being for being flawed, but thankfully no one here needs their feelings protected, as they are all genuinely interesting.
 
The real flaw when it comes to talking about Fiddlin' is the way the film handles darker subject matter. This deals with some real issues, and they never feel particularly heavy. This is due to the fact they get almost no attention. From gender representation in Old Time music, to people's difficulty finding jobs in Galax, the impact of these issues is minimized largely due to how little the film wants to deal with them.

This is all the more noticeable when it jumps back to something remarkably upbeat. Hey, if the filmmakers want to make something saccharine and upbeat, power to them. Sadly, when these darker subject matters get thrown in, and then are quickly painted over, it feels like a missed opportunity to explore real problems, and their impact on the industry. It feels like the filmmakers wanted to appear to be aware of the problems, without ever having to get their hands dirty.
 
It doesn't demolish the films quality over all though, and in general the film is delightful to watch. Even those who might find this music off putting or uninspiring might be able to enjoy the impact it actually has on people. It's not a film trying to convert anyone, merely educate. It's a largely inoffensive experience that's largely enjoyable, even when it stumbles to grasp anything that feel even the least bit scary.

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Final Thoughts? Fiddlin' is about the highs, and like a fun aunt or uncle who whispers rumors of an incarcerated cousin under their breath, it desperately wants to mention the darker things. It doesn't seem comfortable with doing, that though, and so by and large, it's just an inoffensive film that will make the average documentary viewer feel good, and very little else. To put it another way, it's a fluff piece stretched over 90 minutes, and it won't hurt anyone who watches it.

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