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Originally published September 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 21, 2007 at 2:06 AM


A singalong love song of extraordinary tone

Near the end of this absorbing and marvelously constructed documentary about cultural icon Pete Seeger, the 88-year-old troubadour speaks...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Pete Seeger: The Power of Song," a documentary directed by Jim Brown. 93 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Seven Gables.

Near the end of this absorbing and marvelously constructed documentary about cultural icon Pete Seeger, the 88-year-old troubadour speaks some of his most ringing, yet typically eloquent words of everyman philosophy: "We've all got to get along to put the world together."

Coming from anyone else or at any other time, that would sound like the most Pollyanna of eye-rolling homilies. But after all the images and testimony we've seen, we truly believe it as it rolls plainly and honestly off the tongue of this gentle giant of American musical history.

"Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" is by far one of the best personal histories ever set to film for its depth, breadth and access to contemporary interview footage with Seeger, his family and a host of famous faces. It's also packed with a mix of remarkable archival footage and discovered photographs that tell the story of Seeger's life almost in and of itself.

But the movie isn't content with being just a fascinating account of Seeger's life as a lefty free spirit who was as famous for his political and social stances as he was for his music. It's a rousing and irresistible musical that constantly sings the joyous praises of Seeger's long career. Extended segments show off his awe-inspiring voice in song after song.

There are a few choice bits from other artists, but more often the accompanying music comes from the audiences he sang to, for he would never let them sit mute, however enraptured. As Bob Dylan mumbles in one of the contemporary interview clips, "Nobody can get an audience to sing like Pete Seeger."

Most popularly known for writing or co-writing songs such as "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "If I Had a Hammer," Seeger was also an independent-minded rally man for any number of causes. He was blacklisted from TV for 17 years, finally returning on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" to sing his Vietnam War protest song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy."

The film returns again and again to the Hudson River Valley home that Seeger built with his own hands, to capture extraordinary interviews from Seeger's large family and the man himself. His son says his early and lasting commerciality was an accident that kind of bothered Seeger, but that he put up with it to promote his music.

If anything, this wonderful movie is almost too reverent. But if you've never heard of Pete Seeger or if you've known him all your life, see this film. Walking out, you might just be ready to put the world together.

Ted Fry:

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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