The Groove Is Not Trivial


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Groove Is Not Trivial
"The film stays true to its title by never letting the music play second fiddle."

Tommie Dell Smith's latest documentary is part biographical exploration of the life and work of Clackmannan-born fiddler Alasdair Fraser and part consideration of his cultural viewpoint and politics.

Lovers of traditional Scottish music will enjoy the large segments of the film that show Fraser playing, or creating music alongside cellist Natalie Haas and many others at his various fiddle camps, with the film staying true to its title by never letting the music play second fiddle.

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While Fraser discusses his upbringing and what drove him to try to revitalise the enjoyment of this music, he is also quick to outline the problems he sees with the Scottish "cultural cringe". His argument, backed here by some limited but solid archive footage, travels back in time to the oppression of the Scots by the English and, in particular, the horror of the Highland Clearances, to outline the way that culture became politicised. "If you want to suppress a people, you hit them in the culture, where it hurts," he points out. For all his espousing of a love of Scotland, however, it's hard not to think some of this may be tinged with nostalgia, as he now lives in California.

While his nationalist politics may not be for everyone - there are no doubt many supporters of Scottish cultural traditions who are happy with the Union - his beautiful music and open attitude to teaching it have universal appeal. His camps are noticeable for the lack of sheet music on display, with the players encouraged to relax about whether a note is 'right' or 'wrong' in order to find their voice. Fraser has a unique way of getting them into that groove, suggesting one woman, for instance, look at a mountain's silhouette and then play its rises and falls.

It's tough to fit everything into an hour - although the film's length might well make it a strong prospect for a TV deal. Inevitably, we're left wanting more, particularly about the camp Fraser has now begun in Spain and how he developed his teaching methods in general. A sweet tune then, even if it could use more grace notes.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2017
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Music documentary focusing on fiddle player Alasdair Fraser.

Director: Tommie Dell Smith

Starring: Alasdair Fraser

Year: 2016

Runtime: 60 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2017

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