Baptism, from The High Lonesome Sound, 1962


 
 
   

"From the standpoint of pure film, John Cohen's The High Lonesome Sound is the best folk music film I have yet seen. It is the only film that can stand on its own two feet, independent of the viewer's interest in folk music. [The filmmaker and editor)]are well aware of the possibilities of their medium and have structured each scene in a logical, common sense, yet highly artistic manner.... A genteel and a rollicking church service are balanced against each other (with some incisive camera work on children and the American flag in the more emotional service). The film is a real achievement, both as a film and as a serious study of a folksinger and his region."
Sing Out! Magazine (Paul Nelson)


"[John Cohen's] films are musical and sociological documentaries, recording and preserving the work of the last few representatives of the great American folk tradition. The film The High Lonesome Sound set Appalachian banjo picker Roscoe Holcomb firmly in the context of the land and the people with which he had spent his life. Cohen's new film The End of An Old Song is a superbly conceived masterfully executed work of art. The black and white images are stunning in their simplicity and evocative power...Cohen builds a universe in his film and hands it to us complete."
Rolling Stone (Michael Goodwin)

"John Cohen's Musical Holdouts incorporates some of the finest aspects of the contemporary independent documentary: the capacity to recognize the value of our ethnic origins as they are expressed (in this case) through indigenous music making; the courage to take what is basically a political position against the mainstream American culture; a confidence in the intelligence of the viewer…The tenderness and care with which Musical Holdouts was made does not camouflage or adulturate Cohen's purpose: to create an eloquent testimonial to those enclaves within America where music-making endures as a key to a people's cultural identity."
Film Forum (Karen Cooper)

"Mountain Music of Peru stands out as a beautiful, and often extremely moving portrayal of the vitality and importance of Andean musical culture in the lives of the Peruvian people. With great humanity, and an artist's eye, Cohen has captured the essence of a wide variety of Andean contexts.
Thomas Turino, University of Texas.

"The simplicity of Mountain Music of Peru enables the viewer to be intimately drawn into and to become enthralled with the people."
Anthropology Magazine (Joseph Bastien)

"Aglow with that special flourescence that colors take on above 14,000 feet, this breathtaking documentary (Mountain Music of Peru) records the struggle, pain and protocol of a living culture as exotic and elaborate as that of ancient Tibet."
San Francisco Film Festival (Naomi Wise)

"Maverick filmmaker John Cohen has turned the ethnographic film scene on its ear during his storied career. Cohen's gift is not only to find what is unique about his subjects, but to dig beneath the surface and discover unexpected links between culture, music, art and religion- and the rest of the world. Two of his Peruvian films show that he is willing to follow his story wherever it goes, even at the risk of losing his life... Dancing with the Incas focuses on Huayno music, the most popular style in the Andes, and sets it in current political and social contexts. "It ends up with some people who switch from singing sentimental songs to singing songs of protest... boy did I get it from the Peruvian upper classes for allowing those songs to be heard," Cohen said. "You give the people a voice where they don't have one," he said. "It's not that they are poor people, it's that they are people who are 'other.' They don't play the game by the rules of our society."
Albuquerque Journal (Anthony Della Flora)

"Dancing with the Incas is a tour de force. Musically rich and politically poignant, it paves the way for a new kind of ethnographic film, one which makes us think about how members of the Peruvian urban poor create and transform rural indigenous traditions, producing an artistic genre entirely new which is sensitive to Andean musical structures and to contemporary popular culture. While focusing on the music, the film never lets us forget the economic struggles of the people who perform."
Judith Friedlander, Dean of Social Sciences, Anthropology, Hunter College (CUNY)