Peter, Paul and Mary was born in 1961, amid the artistic ferment of New York City’s Greenwich Village, and it was in that highly-charged atmosphere that their art sharpened into advocacy. Brought together by manager Albert Grossman, the trio’s debut album topped the chart in 1962, and led them to perform songs of social import at protests, strikes and political rallies around the world. They championed the early works of Bob Dylan, sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 March on Washington, endorsed Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 campaign with an original song, protested nuclear power at Diablo Canyon and documented the plight of El Salvador in the 1980s. They lived up to Mary Travers’ edict, “if you’re going it sing the music you have to live the music.”
Though their hits ended with 1969’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and they started a seven-year hiatus in 1970, they regrouped in 1978 and continued to record and perform until Travers’ passing in 2009. Jim Brown’s 78-minute documentary focuses primarily on the salad years of 1961-70, capturing the group’s deep conviction in live performance and interviews. The period footage, often in full-length songs, is incredibly moving as the trio sings with a strength of sentiment rarely seen on today’s national stages. The way in which Mary Travers was physically gripped by the music remains enthralling to this day. Their folk music galvanized a broad international audience in ways nearly impossible with today’s balkanized world of personalized streams. But in 1963, music was a rallying point that had wide societal impact.
Clips with Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger link to the broader folk and political milieus, and scenes from Mary Travers’ memorial service expand the program beyond Brown’s earlier Carry It On – A Musical Legacy. The film sticks mainly to the trio’s public, performing side, leaving out the inner workings of how they wrote, developed their sound, toured or recorded. Also missing is Yarrow’s 1970 arrest and conviction and its impact on the group. Interviews with the trio, along with spouses, children and managers provide period color. Those seeking more music and less story should check out the 25th Anniversary Concert. But those wishing to see PP&M’s intense earnestness in the context of their times will be greatly moved by this film. [©2017 Hyperbolium]