There’s nothing cinematically innovative about “Down from the Mountain”–a purely conventional record of a concert given in Nashville in May, 2000, by the musicians who contributed to the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (interspersed with backstage footage and snippets of interviews)–but that’s hardly important when the music is so wonderful and the energy so infectious. The songs can be characterized in different ways–as blue grass, old-time mountain music or alternative country–but whatever it’s called, the music is both deeply felt and effortlessly engaging, and artists like Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, David Rawlings, The Whites and Chris Thomas King, among others, sock it over with enormous verve. Special mention has to be made of John Hartford, already ill with cancer when the concert was held (he died last June 4), who serves as M.C. and whose delivery of a couple of songs is remarkably touching; his rendition of “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” used over the “O Brother” opening credits, is unforgettable.
“Down from the Mountain” is co-directed by Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, whose filmographies include “The War Room” and “Startup.com,” and while it breaks no new ground, it’s unfailingly entertaining. If this picture doesn’t set your toe tapping and your spirit soaring, you’d better check your pulse. See it and then watch “O Brother” again for good measure. With these two flicks, you can’t lose.