The Ballad of Shirley Collins
Directed by Rob Curry and Tim Plester
Thursday, January 10, 6 pm
“A buoyant, affecting work . . .radiates with the afterglow of Collin’s earthy star power.”—Little White Lies
Widely regarded as the 20th century’s most important singer of English traditional song, Shirley Collins was devoted to reviving the musical tradition. Alongside her sister Dolly, Shirley stood at the epicenter of the folk music revival during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, due to traumatic circumstances, she was robbed of her unique singing voice and forced into early retirement.
Counterpointing the film’s contemporary journey with a more literal one taken from the opposite end of Shirley’s life, The Ballad of Shirley Collins also proves itself to be something of a time-travelling Transatlantic road-movie – lovingly retelling the story of her seminal 1959 ‘Southern Journey’ song-collecting trip around America’s rural Deep South alongside her then-lover (and legendary ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax. A trip that took them into neglected rural communities including some in Kentucky, both black and white, that were about to be forever changed by the emerging Civil Rights movement. They uncovered and documented a peerless document of traditional American music–one that would later inspire the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother Where Art Thou.
Deliberately eschewing a straightforward biopic approach, the film is a lyrical response to the life-and-times of a totemic musical figure. Granted intimate access to recording sessions for Shirley’s first album (Lodestar) of new recordings in almost four decades. 2017, U.K., DCP, 94 minutes. Recommended for 13+.
With a post-screening discussion with Nathan Salsburg, Curator of the Alan Lomax Archive at the Association for Cultural Equity and director Rob Curry by Skype.