Some people get to do it all. And the star of This Ain’t No Mouse Music has certainly come close. The documentary tells the story of Chris Strachwitz, a man who has been a music publisher, producer, label owner, publicist, archivist and record store owner, among other things.
The film is directed by Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling and their focus is on one unique character. Strachwitz was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States as a teenager in 1947. One day he would watch a documentary about New Orleans jazz music and this kick-started his career and life-long passion of wanting to explore the origins of American music (i.e. blues, jazz, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex and Hillbilly Country).
Strachwitz is a man that knows what he loves and what he doesn’t. He also backs this up with an ear for picking musical talent. But his pet hate is “mouse music” or any genre that is over-produced, commercial or lacking “soul”. His passion is for the obscure music that forms the threads of America’s culture and heritage.
For the past 50 years the Strachwitz-founded Arhoolie Records has supported and released everything but mouse music. It all started with blues artist, Mance Lipscomb in 1960. It grew from here to include all sorts of musicians captured “as is” or in the environments that best suited them. It was no matter if this was in the middle of the road, a tiny bar, backyard, house party or back porch- Strachwitz was on hand to capture it all plus the additional atmosphere and authenticity that went along with it.
It’s obvious that this music mogul has his flaws. He can be grumpy and obnoxious and he is never satisfied with any one thing. The sheer breadth of Arhoolie’s back catalogue is staggering and one of the pitfalls of the documentary is that the directors draw their attention to too many different artists and styles. This means it is unlikely to appeal to everybody and the limited timeframe means you barely scratch the surface with each one. The film would’ve been much more powerful had it focused on more of the key players.
This Ain’t No Mouse Music is redeemed by its talking heads. The interview subjects include: Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and others. There is lots of archive footage and stills used (many of these were captured by Strachwitz and his staff, proving that the doors to the cultural preservation of this obscure music can be opened to keen aficionados and filmmakers alike).
Chris Strachwitz is ultimately a perfectionist and a soulful guy and his documentary reflects some of this. The film was obviously a labour of love for the two filmmakers as they piece together so much musical history and keep the energy high and infectious. This Ain’t No Mouse Music is full of equal amounts nostalgia and love for the stars and minor players in this particular music sphere and it’s a joyous celebration of differences and the heady days of vinyl.
Originally published on 6 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-review-this-aint-no-mouse-music-usa-2013
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