One of the great things about music is the manner in which it can transcend race, socioeconomic class and conflicting ideologies to
bring together disparate groups of people — whether it’s Public Enemy and NWA giving bristling new face to African-American anger, or John Mayer teaching people of all colors and creeds the danger behind letting their kids grow up to be mock-sensitive douchebags. Music is interwoven into the fabric and fiber of America’s being, from jazz and rock ‘n’ roll straight on through to hip-hop. It’s in that vein that one can most appreciate Homemade Hillbilly Jam. A beautifully shot, surprisingly entertaining 80-minute musical romp, director Rick Minnich’s film celebrates the tradition of Missouri’s Ozark
countryside with a handful of rascally, modern-day hillbillies.
In the 1800s, a scrappy group of Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in the Ozark Mountains of Southwestern Missouri. Stereotyped as poor, lawless degenerates, these isolated hill folk over time became the butt of countless jokes. The documentary Homemade Hillbilly Jam captures the rich, unique history of this particular brand of folk music by following three families of modern-day hillbillies back to the roots of their music-making heritage. Leading the pack is singer/songwriter Mark Bilyeu from the band Big Smith, who has for years delighted audiences around the world with his foot-stompin’ repertoire of songs — twisted but heartfelt tales of moonshine and adultery, as well as faith and life — many passed down through the generations.
Sumptuously shot on Super 16 film and embellished by old photos and archival footage, Homemade Hillbilly Jam is both a celebration of modern-day hill folk and a vivid reminder of their hellraising, bootlegging ancestors. It’s a movie about kinship and tradition, and the power and mooring we all draw from those elements. Director Minnich — who’s written and directed several narrative shorts in addition to three long-form documentaries, including the prize-winning Heaven on Earth, about the Missouri Bible Belt town of Branson — doesn’t have much an internal drive for grander, inside-out regional explication, and the movie sometimes suffers for that. You feel his affection for the subjects, but a lot of obvious questions go unasked. Instead, the music itself — from the aforementioned Bilyeu and his band Big Smith, as well as The Pine Ridge Singers and The Baldknobbers — is what carries the day here, so if you’re not a big music fan in general, and predisposed to burrow in and try to figure out how music moves folks differently, this won’t be the film to introduce and convert you in wide-eyed fashion to the hillbilly style.
Housed in an attractive, slimline, fold-out cardboard case, and presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby digital 2.0 stereo audio track, Homemade Hillbilly Jam comes with the following DVD bonus features: six minutes of outtakes, three extra music performances, a photo gallery, text biographies of the behind-scenes talent and previews for other First Run releases. There’s also a short film, On the Road, that includes regional audience reaction to some of the first screenings of the movie. For more information, click here, or visit Minnich’s eponymous web site. To purchase the disc via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)