Songcatcher is a 2000 drama film directed by Maggie Greenwald. It is about a musicologist researching and collecting Appalachian folk music in the mountains of western North Carolina. Although Songcatcher is a fictional film, it is loosely based on the work of Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and that of the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp, portrayed at the end of the film as professor Cyrus Whittle.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Maggie Greenwald|
|Produced by||Richard Miller|
|Written by||Maggie Greenwald|
E. Katherine Kerr
|Music by||David Mansfield|
|Edited by||Keith Reamer|
In 1907, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer), a professor of musicology, is denied a promotion at the university where she teaches. She impulsively visits her sister Eleanor (Jane Adams), who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There, she discovers a treasure trove of traditional Scots Irish ballads, which have been preserved by the secluded mountain people since the colonial period of the 1600s and 1700s. Lily decides to record and transcribe the songs and share them with the outside world.
With the help of a musically talented orphan named Deladis Slocumb (Emmy Rossum), Lily ventures into isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs. She finds herself increasingly enchanted, not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harsh conditions. She becomes privy to their struggles to save their land from Earl Giddens (David Patrick Kelly), representative of a coal mining company. At the same time, Lily is troubled when she finds that Eleanor is engaged in a lesbian love affair with her co-teacher at the school.
Lily meets Tom Bledsoe (Aidan Quinn), a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician. Despite some initial resentment, she soon begins a love affair with him. She experiences a slow change in both her perception of the mountain people as savage and uncouth, and of her sister's sexuality as immoral. Hoping to help share the culture of the mountain people with the wider world, Lily convinces Clementine McFarland (Rhoda Griffis), an art collector, to purchase a painting done by a local woman.
Events come to a crisis when a young man discovers Eleanor and her lover, Harriet, kissing in the woods. That night, two men set fire to the school building, burning Eleanor, Harriet, and Deladis out of their home and destroying Lily's transcriptions of the ballads and her phonograph recordings. Rather than starting over again, Lily decides to leave, but she convinces Tom and Deladis to "go down the mountain" with her to make and sell phonograph recordings of mountain music. As they depart, Cyrus Whittle, a renowned professor from England, arrives on a collection foray of his own, ensuring that the ballads will be preserved in the manner that Lily had originally intended.
|Janet McTeer||Professor Lily Penleric|
|Michael Davis||Dean Arthur Pembroke|
|Michael Goodwin||Professor Wallace Aldrich|
|Greg Russell Cook||Fate Honeycutt|
|Jane Adams||Eleanor Penleric|
|E. Katherine Kerr||Harriet Tolliver|
|Emmy Rossum||Deladis Slocumb|
|Pat Carroll||Viney Butler|
|Stephanie Roth Haberle||Alice Kincaid|
|Aidan Quinn||Tom Bledsoe|
|Erin Blake Clanton||Polly|
|David Patrick Kelly||Earl Giddens|
|Michael Harding||Reese Kincaid|
|Taj Mahal||Dexter Speaks|
|Muse Watson||Parley Gentry|
|Iris DeMent||Rose Gentry|
|Rhoda Griffis||Clementine McFarland|
|Steve Boles||Ambrose McFarland|
|Taylor Hayes||Reverend Merriweather|
|Don Pedi||Barn Band – Dulcimer|
|Sheila Kay Adams||Barn Band – Banjo|
|Bobby McMillon||Singer at Barn Dance|
|Hazel Dickens||Singer at Barn Dance|
|Andrea Powell||Josie Moore|
|Danny Nelson||Uncle Cratis|
|David Ducey||Postman Johnson|
|Steven Sutherland||Cyrus Whittle|
|Shawn Lindsay||Dancer at Barn Dance|
|Songcatcher: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||January 23, 2001|
The film's score was written by David Mansfield, who also assembled a roster of female country music artists to perform mostly traditional mountain ballads. Some of the songs are contemporary arrangements, and some are played in the traditional Appalachian music style. The artists include Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Maria McKee, Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch and Patty Loveless. Singers Emmy Rossum, Iris DeMent, and Hazel Dickens, who appeared in the film, are also featured on the soundtrack.
The soundtrack album inspired the 2002 follow-up album by Vanguard Records, Songcatcher II: The Tradition That Inspired the Movie, that compiled recordings of some of the songs selected for the film as performed by authentic Appalachian artists. The recordings are mostly from the 1960s, out of the Vanguard vaults.
- "Fair and Tender Ladies" (Traditional, performed by Rosanne Cash) – 2:56
- "Pretty Saro" (Traditional, performed by Iris DeMent) – 2:54
- "When Love Is New" (Composed and performed by Dolly Parton) – 5:16
- "Barbara Allen" (Traditional, performed by Emmy Rossum) – 0:43
- "Barbara Allen" (Traditional, performed by Emmylou Harris) – 4:35
- "Moonshiner" (Traditional, performed by Allison Moorer) – 3:34
- "Sounds of Loneliness" (Composed by Patty Ramey, performed by Patty Loveless) – 3:44
- "All My Tears" (Composed and performed by Julie Miller) – 3:11
- "Mary of the Wild Moor" (Traditional, performed by Sara Evans) – 3:51
- "Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional, Maria McKee) – 3:24
- "Wind and Rain" (Traditional, performed by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) – 3:25
- "The Cuckoo Bird" (Traditional, performed by Deana Carter) – 3:33
- "Score Suite # 1" (Composed by David Mansfield) – 5:01
- "Conversation With Death" (Traditional, performed by Hazel Dickens) – 3:01
- "Score Suite # 2" (Composed by David Mansfield) – 4:58
- "Single Girl" (Traditional, performed by Pat Carroll) – 1:04
|U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums||42|
|U.S. Billboard Top Independent Albums||31|
- Dorothy Scarborough, A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains: American Folk Songs of British Ancestry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1937.
- "Songcatcher Box Office Data". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
- "Songcatcher (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
- "NEA National Heritage Fellowships – NEA". www.arts.gov. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
- Lowenstein, Roger (2004-02-01). "The Company They Kept". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.