You Are There (DVD Review)
Unless you’re a sexagenarian, you probably weren’t there when all these iconic country music performers were strutting their stuff on television in the early fifties. A lot of these images were taken from Grand Ole Opry shows which were shot on 35 mm color film even though they were originally broadcast in black and white because color television had yet to be invented. Shanachie project producer Richard Nevins dug up the color film and assembled the lineup here, and most of the footage looks as crisp and clear today as when it was shot.
You might have seen a few flickering images of Hank Williams on late night teevee promoting one of those audio Time/Life or Grand Ole Opry compilations but this is the first video of Hank seen in over 60 years. These offerings are in black in white, with Williams performing four tunes: “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “I Saw The Light,” and a duet with Anita Carter on “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You” that shows a boyish Hank flirting shamelessly with a flustered Anita who looks like she’s overwhelmed by Hank’s presence. You get a taste of Hank’s wry sense of humor as he introduces “Cold Cold Heart” as a song that’s “been awful kind to me and the boys,bought us quite a few beans and biscuits.” Even in black and white, you can sense his glittery presence, wrapped in a cowboy shirt dripping with rawhide tassels, bedecked with glittering rhinestones.
Williams’ presence draws all the attention in any situation he’s in, but at least one other performer is trying to upstage him here. Before she hooked up with the man in black, June Carter was a way-over- the-top slapstick comedian. Watch her chew up the scenery onstage, flapping her bloomers and losing her shoe while stealing the thunder from a bunch of cloggers, then unleashing her air aid siren of a voice, drowning not only Williams but Roy Acuff on “I Saw The Light.”
But the best musical comedy here is from Grandpa Jones. Nevins must have had a soft spot in his heart for Jones, who gets considerable airtime here, with five appearances. Its all great stuff though, featuring Grandpa’s galoshes-clad high kicks, frenetic frailing and cornpone humor. He’s aided by wife Ramona playing guitar on most cuts and featured on mandolin and singing harmony on “I Wonder Where My Darlin’ Is Tonight.” Banjoist Stringbean also cuts loose on a couple of cuts, his signature lowered trouser look appearing years ahead and several inches lower than the droopy pants rapper fashion version.
Country comedy pioneers Lonzo and Oscar do some barnyard terpsichorean struttin’ before performing a more or less straight version of “John Henry.” ( watch the bass player’s tongue acrobatics, predating KISS’ Gene Simmons similar gyrations by 20 years.)
The Louvin Brothers do a mesmerizing version of “Love Thy Neighbor,” setting the bar in the stratosphere for family harmony. Bill Monroe and various versions of his Bluegrass Boys soar in the upper atmosphere as well, their high and lonesome offerings appearing on six cuts.
More economical than anything the Time/Life folks are hawking and just as impressive, You Are There is an affordable time traveling device that fits easily in any household.