New Orleans Music In Exile
Released By: MVD Visual
November 22, 2016.
Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Cyril Nevill, Marcia Ball, Eddie Bo
Going back to New Orleans in 2014, almost twenty years after I'd been there last, I was surprised to see that the effect of Hurricane Katrina was not nearly as lasting as I'd been led to believe. A few establishments aside, most of the French Quarter was open for business and seemed to be doing quite well, the same old buildings with the same balconies, the same plaques and statues displayed prominently. Of course, if I'd given Katrina and New Orleans much more than a cursory glance back in 2005, I would've known then what I just learned now from New Orleans Music In Exile; that it wasn't the touristy area that felt the hit of the deadly hurricane, but the residential areas...where homes and businesses were destroyed by intense flooding, the remains left rotten and molding.
New Orleans Music In Exile, released in 2006, tells the story of Katrina, the devastation to New Orleans culture, and the look forward to rebirth by gathering some of the colourful characters who contributed to keeping the city's unique musical heritage alive. Starting off with news footage of the storm and the evacuation, the film interviews local personalities like OffBeat music magazine author Jan Ramsey, who gives a first-hand account of fleeing the city, and then returning to help rebuild the vibrant culture that has made New Orleans so famous, a culture born of European brass bands, Native Indian customs, and the music of African slaves. A variety of musicians also chime in to share their stories, like Dr. John, Cyril Neville (of Ian's favourite singing family, The Neville Brothers), and blues singer Irma Thomas.
It's Thomas, in fact, who gives us our first close-up look at Katrina's destruction, an in-person walkthrough of the wreckage of her own night club, with footage following of the club in better days. Other musicians walk the cameras through their own homes and businesses, neighbourhoods ruined, cars in swimming pools, and entire houses relocated from the force of the floodwater, showcasing how much of a disaster area exists outside of the range of the touristy Bourbon Street, and why so many have fled the city to higher ground, perhaps to never return again.
Will they return? Will they rebuild? That's the question that New Orleans In Exile seems to be asking, but with so many artists, such as Kermit Ruffins, The Iguanas, and the Rebirth Brass Band heading to Texas and Tennessee to take place in those thriving music communities, it was certainly anyone's guess at the time that the film was released. Fortunately, in the years since, the question has been answered, with a number of those exiled artists returning home to once again contribute to the resilient heritage of Orleans Parish. Focusing largely on talking head interviews and intimate concert performances, Mugge's film doesn't concentrate on much aside from the general subject matter, and doesn't judge or point fingers...even FEMA gets only a snarky comment out of the almost two hour running time...and that works well for Music In Exile. The negativity is there for anyone who wants to research it, but this is a story of hope and rebirth that comes off as satisfying. Although I'd only heard of a few of the performers, familiarity isn't essential for enjoyment, it's the stories that matter, and Mugge's use of footage of the city, both vintage and current, add a flavour that keeps the film visually compelling, highlighting the heritage that has kept New Orleans vibrant for all of these years.
New Orleans Musical In Exile Comes to MVD blu-ray in a 1.78:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks solid for the most part. Newer footage (new for 2005/2006, anyway) is shot on DV and looks about as good as it can, with the talking head interviews well-lit and clear. Footage taken from around the city varies, being shot in clubs and flooded homes and businesses, but it's never difficult to comprehend what's happening visually. Some footage of Katrina and the aftermath appears to be TV ratio and stretched out horizontally, but these clips are too few to be a hindrance. Though I did see some digital pixelation occur in a couple of instances, the transfer is largely free of visual issues.
English Audio is provided via a LPCM 2.0 track, with no subtitles available. Audio is clear and coherent for the most part, with dialogue sitting right where it should be, though some of the older footage obviously doesn't fair as well. Audio from the live performances varies, though; while most sound great, some display a noticeable amount of distortion.
First up in the supplements for the disc is mysteriously labeled "Bonus Perfomances", which is actually 2 outtakes from the film, running approximately twenty-five minutes, and then 6 actual musical performances by the likes of Theresa Andersson, Papa Mali, Marcia Ball, and others. These performances take place at the various club locations featured in the film.
There are also 7 Extended Performances from those found in the film, by Dr. John, Cyril Neville, beatinpath, and others.
The Final Word
More than a casual overview of the effects of Katrina, New Orleans Music In Exile tells the story through the experiences of some of the more unique people who experienced the loss firsthand.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!