Review: ‘For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair’

Judicious trimming could tighten the focus and maximize the audience potential.

Judicious trimming could tighten the focus and maximize the audience potential of “For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair,” a labor-of-love tribute to Houston’s improbably enduring venue for folk and acoustic musicians. In its current form, documaker Bruce Bryant’s heartfelt pic often feels repetitious as it offers a seemingly endless array of glowing testimonials for the mostly volunteer-run cafe that helped launch the careers of such singer-songwriters as Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and Guy Clark. More archival footage of live performances and less misty-eyed nostalgia would help the docu reach viewers in homevid and pubcast release.

In a relatively quiet corner of Montrose, a Houston neighborhood where eccentricity is celebrated, Anderson Fair has survived for decades (albeit just barely) as a place where nobodies, up-and-comers and even a few established artists have been able to perform — on some nights, for as few as six people — in a low-stress, nurturing environment.

Lovett, Griffith and Clark are among the vets on hand to sing the establishment’s praises. Others featured in interviews and/or onstage include Robert Earl Keen, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Lucinda Williams and the late, legendary Townes Van Zandt. Keen appears to speak for many when he recalls that, during his first Anderson Fair gig, he felt he “might as well be playing Carnegie Hall.”

The impressive live performances by Van Zandt and several others — many of them recorded on black-and-white video with surprisingly sharp sound quality — will be enough for some folk and country aficionados to check out “For the Sake of the Song.” And there’s an undeniable charm to the pic’s admiring portrait of a music venue operated by true believers infused with the spirit of unreconstructed flower children.

By the midpoint, however, you may yearn for a fast-forward button to get through the overabundance of sound-alike interviews with Anderson Fair performers, admirers and unpaid staffers who simply can’t say enough wonderful things about the storied cafe. There’s never any question of their sincerity. But a little bit of this goes a very long way.

For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair

Production

A Ghost Ranch Films production in association with Fair Retail Films. Produced by Jim Barham, Bruce Bryant. Executive producer, Elizabeth Phillips. Directed by Bruce Bryant.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, HD), Jim Barham; editors, Bill Moore, Barham; music, Gurf Morlix; sound, Scott Szabo. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Lone Star States), March 19, 2010. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, Townes Van Zandt, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Steven Fromholz, Eric Taylor, Vince Bell, Staid Cleaves.

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