This month’s presentation by Fresno Filmworks, “The Wandering Muse,” could have used a lot more muse and a lot less wandering. The biggest problem is that the documentary offers only quick glimpse at musicians who could easily be the solo feature of their own film.
The documentary from Canadian director Tamás Wormser does a successful job of showing the extraordinary ways Jewish musicians have found — within the confines of their religious teachings — to express themselves. This is beautifully played out through some rich and engaging musical performances.
“The Wandering Muse” follows several Jewish musicians who have traveled the globe to share their music. Their performances are in venues as eclectic as their sounds, going from a small bar in Argentina where two friends play tango-infused klezmer to a Montreal jazz concert.
Just some of the musicians featured in the film include Deborah Strauss, Sarah Gordon, Socalled and Pete Rushefsky.
It took the director seven years to collect all of the footage. It’s a testament to the director’s tenacity. It’s also an example of how easy it is to lose focus of an idea as the years – and footage – start stacking up.
Wormser becomes so impassioned by the musical performances, which range from a modified rap to protest songs, that the people presenting these moving musical tributes aren’t fully examined. Part of the problem is that Wormser becomes so enthralled with the metaphor of the “wandering muse” that many musicians don’t get enough time to tell their stories.
This is particularly noticeable in rural Uganda where villagers chant Hebrew prayers in East African harmonies. The Jewish faith is growing in this isolated area despite the lack of a rabbi or synagog. It’s one man’s personal belief, Moses Walyombe, in Jewish teachings that brings the message to the village – much of it through song.
A documentary on this village would have been as compelling as all the snippets Wormser offers through his film.
The film does a masterful job of spotlighting the music. Even when the musical style changes – often taking on a modern sound – the power of the words and religious significance is never lost. It’s a reminder that even if religious teachings vary, music has a way of create a bridge to better understand a differing ideology.
There are moments when the artists are questioned about bringing an update approach to traditional works. The idea behind the film is that there is an emerging world of Jewish artisans who are trying to shatter stereotypes by avoiding the norm in their presentations. A contemporary world for Jewish musicians is out there and Wormser shows the dynamic way so many artists are embracing contemporary sounds.
Wormser’s only flaw is presenting too many interesting characters. It’s like going to a concert where 10 musicians play and each a good enough to stand on their own. The sampling seems a little too brief, but the concert is still very good.
The Wandering Muse
- The movie is not rated.
- Screenings are 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, at the Tower Theatre.
- Tickets are $10 general admission and $8 for students and seniors.
- Go to www.fresnofilmworks.org for more information.