- Biography, Cultural History, Music, Portrait, and Arts
Between 1959 & 1980 Shirley Collins changed the course of folk music in England & America. Thirty years after disappearing, she's back. Partly inspired by her beguiling autobiography America Over the Water, the film will retell the tale of the famous song-collecting trip she took around the Deep South of America with legendary field-recordist Alan Lomax - a trip on which they uncovered and documented the music that would later inspire the soundtrack to the Coen Brothersâ€™ O Brother Where Art Thou. But the real story is more fascinating than the myth. We will blend the story of the trip with a celebration of her role in the folk revival of the 50s, 60s and 70s, when - amongst many other achievements - she and her sister Dolly produced the eraâ€™s most defining monuments in their seminal albums Anthems in Eden and Love, Death and the Lady. Largely forgotten outside hardcore folk circles due to her enforced absence from the world stage.
- Show treatment
In 1959, a young English folk singer signed on to accompany the esteemed songhunter Alan Lomax on arguably his most important song collecting trip across Americaâ€™s Deep South. This singer was Shirley Collins, and she was actually deep into an affair with Lomax â€“ a man twice her age. As they crossed the country, from Virginia all the way to the Mississippi Delta and back â€“ they met a series of homespun musicians who mined a tradition of folk music which was centuries old. They had with them a trusty black-and-white stills camera and â€“ crucially â€“ a prototype stereo reel-to-reel audio recorder. It was the first trip on which Lomax recorded folk singers using stereo equipment, and the definitive audio archive that they created â€“ several hundred hours of recordings â€“ will form the basis of our film.
Alongside this, we will explore the life of Shirley herself, beginning with her childhood in the seaside town of Hastings during WWII - where her grandparents sang her folk tunes as they sheltered from German bombs beneath the kitchen table. We will explore her relationships with men, tracing the connections from her first great heartbreak, when her father was pushed out of the family after the war, through her controversial affair with Lomax, to her two - ultimately doomed - marriages.
In much the manner that Shirley and Alan Lomax visited the houses of the finest folk singers of the time, we will also invite a series of iconic and carefully selected musicians of the modern age to visit with and perform with Shirley in her Sussex home. Their conversations will help provide inroads into the filmâ€™s backstory, with Shirleyâ€™s vivid recollections transporting us over 50 years in time to rural Appalachia and Red State America - and back again, to intermingle and joust with the rich traditions of the Sussex Weald which have helped shape her as a person.
This is a film about stories and storytelling â€“ the story of Shirleyâ€™s life, the story of the legendary trip she took and the experiences she had, the fantastical stories she was told along the way, and the stories which lay buried within the songs she heard and has spent her life singing.
In keeping with our previous work, the film will be a unique cinematic blend of reconstruction, audio archive and field-recorded performance - with very little of the conventional biopic apparent.
Shirley Collins is arguably the most important British folk singer of the 20th century; her albums â€˜Anthems in Edenâ€™ and â€˜Love, Death and the Ladyâ€™ in particular being defining monuments of the much-heralded 1960s folk revival. Shirleyâ€™s tale appeared to end in the late 70s, when she developed dysphonia - a condition which prevented her from singing live for over thirty years. This painful episode lends her story an added element of pathos, reflecting as it does the fragility of the human condition. Happily, however, Shirley is being coaxed slowly out of retirement, and the film will also serve as a celebration of her return to the world stage.
- Running time
- 93 minutes
- Paul Williams ... Producer
- Rob Curry ... Director
- Tim Plester ... Director
- Prod. Co.
- Fifth Column Films
- United Kingdom
- Years of Production
- 2013 - 2017
- UK - USA
- Release year
- BFI London, Rotterdam, Without Gravity, among others
- Burning Bridges
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