Home Video Hovel: This Ain’t No Mouse Music, by Chase Beck
This Ain’t No Mouse Music is not, as I had assumed, an indictment of a certain multinational mass media corporation. Rather, the title is taken from an oft-uttered phrase of the film’s primary subject, Chris Strachwitz, as he searches to describe a quality to music I can only surmise means “authenticity.” A German immigrant who devoted his life in America to tracking down the essence of American folk music, Chris’ singular focus has lead to the preservation of many of America’s most precious music history. Mississippi delta blues, deep Louisiana zydeco, and Cajun music, Appalachian folk, and more, all serve to feed Strachwitz’s curiosity. As I write that I realize how silly it sounds. In fact, I have no words to convey what it is that Strachwitz is trying to capture. I’m not sure anyone does. That the movie fails to entirely explain his passion and objective cannot be faulted, as I’m unsure the words exist in any language.
With his hodgepodge of recording equipment, anywhere and everywhere becomes an impromptu recording studio, be it a busy street corner, a rundown storefront, or an abandoned lot. I believe it is this onsite nature of recording that lends such a unique quality to all of these performances. All of Strachwitz recordings become albums he releases under his Arhoolie Records label. By so doing, Strachwitz allows this folk music, which otherwise might have only reached the ears of 100-500 people in a small civic area, to reach the ears of people worldwide.
This Ain’t No Mouse Music is directed and produced by Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon. This does not end their contributions to the film – Simon also receives a cinematography credit and Gosling one for editing. The film is about 92 minutes long, but the DVD includes include 34 minutes of deleted scenes that are as good as anything that made it into the film. The movie is not particularly beautiful to look at, but the music is unsurpassed. My only complaint is that the film is so interested in telling Strachwitz fascinating story that it often truncates or talks over some of the best music and performances I have ever seen or ever want to see.
This is not to suggest that Strachwitz story is uninteresting. The truth is far from it. However, it had to have been quite difficult deciding how much of the film to devote to the music and how much to Strachwitz’ story. While integrated effectively, with story and music twisting into and out of one another, I’m not entirely certain Gosling and Simon made the right decision. However, the filmmakers do not hesitate to name drop Chris Strachwitz’ record company, Arhoolie Records, where all these artists’ music is available. And what delightful music it is. Lo and Behold, as I check the Arhoolie record’s website what do I find but the two-disc soundtrack of This Ain’t No Mouse Music as well as full albums by many of the performers in the film. I’m afraid this review may end-up costing me quite a bit of money while providing me with hours of musical enjoyment.