Published May 07, 2013Chris Strachwitz prefers music that roars. For a sound to capture the German record fanatic's attention, it has to be bursting at the seams with intense emotion.
Deep-rooted regional folk music is at the heart of his addiction; a form of music he's spent the majority of his life documenting and sharing. After migrating to the USA as a teenager, Strachwitz caught the scent of what would become a life-long obsession when he saw a documentary on New Orleans jazz music. His ferocious appetite for these specialized forms of sonic expression has proven to be an invaluable source of cultural archiving for decades.
Co-directors Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling follow Strachwitz on his latest music hunting expedition, coaxing the now elderly ,but no less passionate, record label owner and recording engineer to share his rich history.
There isn't much footage available from older recording sessions, so the film relies mostly on modern interviews with surviving players along with their families, including young musicians who've grown up thankful for the access to Strachwitz's massive archives of obscure heritage music.
As is common with documentaries visually constricted by a lack of access to material, Mouse Music uses a lot of still photographs to reinforce the tales being told. It's interesting to learn about the impact the Arhoolie! Records founder had on the record industry but the story really comes alive as we get to know how these insular music communities scattered all over American function as family for Strachwitz, whose obsessions and mobile lifestyle have hindered his ability to forge relationships with anyone outside of his field of interest. He doesn't seem especially lonely, with homes all over the country happy to open their doors to him and many unofficial nieces and nephews thankful for the pride his enthusiasm and outside perspective has given them in their traditions.
We get a decently rounded picture of the man – he gets grumpy and obnoxious about things he doesn't like, as most passionate people do – and many unique musical performances, but it's more of an info dump than a project with a distinct thematic purpose or narrative shape. Resultantly, Mouse Music is a better history lesson than it is a character study. (Sage Blosom)