To start this review, I watch a lot of documentaries these days. More than all my other years of life combined. I have watched documentaries about subjects I am a fan of, and some I have no clue about to see if I could become a fan. An appeal of a documentary is to take a non-fan and convert them and make a fan rejoice and a bigger fan. I am not a fan of Banjo whatsoever, so if you are a fan of this instrument do not judge a non-fan by his take on the subject, unless you are seeing what it offers entertainment wise. Give me the Banjo, tries so hard to cram 200 years of history into 84 minutes, that a non fan feels like this is not made for them, because the topics they cover they do it almost vaguely, where a non-fan feels left out and has no history lesson or connection with the topic. In the place of a interesting history lesson though, you get interviews with some of the Banjo greats who come across as almost talking a language that a non-fan could not really get into. It is like two mechanics having a conversation about fixing a car to someone who never worked on a car before.
What this film did cover basically is the Banjo from its humble origins as an African instrument, to its inclusion in minstrel shows, to its incorporation into ragtime, folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and country. And how, the banjo has evolved and been redefined throughout the years that it has been a staple in music. Again, they do it so vague that you feel like you are missing a lot. If this film was 30 minutes longer, it would have helped a non fan get into it more. Wait, as boring as this was, 30 minutes more would have put me to sleep. Steve Martin is the narrator to the film and does a really good job at talking about this instrument. He comes across as very knowledgeable, and also a number of contemporary figures weigh in on the current state of banjo playing. But, again he is preaching to a crowd who does not know a Banjo from the man on the moon.
This documentary seemed more suited for fans of the Banjo, then trying to convert non fans like me. I also learned from the press release I was sent, that this played on PBS and has extra footage stuff that did not play on the special. The bonus material is some extra footage and performances that goes for a half hour. I am not so sure if I could recommend this to the common music fan, but if you are into the banjo, this may be for you. Sadly it was not for me, and bored me a lot. Though, my father would have loved this as would my mom because they loved stuff like Hee Haw and this is in that vein, and the Grand Old Opry. Now, there is something that no one would ever picture me saying in a review. How I know this stuff is just scary.
3 out of 10