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The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time 1982
Description: Documentary about the blacklisted folk group, "The Weavers," and the happenings leading up to their triumphant return to Carnegie Hall.
Released: 07 Mar 1982 Director: Jim Brown Writers: Lee Hays Actors: Ronnie Gilbert, Arlo Guthrie, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman Genres: Documentary, Music
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See THE WEAVERS: WASN'T THAT A on youtube.

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See The Weavers Wasn't That on youtube.

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See Holly Near & Ronnie Gilber on youtube.

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See Weavers Re-union Concert - Get on youtube.

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See Pete Seeger Wasn't That on youtube.

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See The Weavers - All the Best (FU on youtube.

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See NAACP Chairman Defends Group on youtube.

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See Singing With You on youtube.

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See Wasn't That a Time! on youtube.

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See Fred Hellerman, Pete Seeger, W on youtube.

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The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time Reviews:

A unbelievable movie.Movies are everytime subjective. We all test to pretend to be objective about the films we see, to pretend that we judge them on the sheer filmmaking ability they display and not on anything to do with us: our lives, our sentiments, our politics, our histories. Of course that's not true, but in the interests of fairness I'll divide this review in two:As a movie--As a movie, "Wasn't That a Time" is a simply made, well-constructed documentary about a the reunion of The Weavers, a four-person group of singer/musicians who helped bring about the public revival of interest in folk melody that blossomed in the fifties and sixties. It details much of their melody as it illustrates their history as a group, from their initial success to their subsequent blacklisting, and on to their triumphant comeback(s). It is narrated with self-deprecating humor and tremendous charm by Lee Hays, the bass singer of the group, who, having already lost his legs to diabetes, died shortly thereafter. The concert footage is exceptional and the interviewees are entertaining and informative. The entire thing is as entertaining and funny and fun as all get-out.As for me--Gosh.Most of the folksingers who came along in that fifties/sixties boom were college children or young musicians who wanted to "join the scene" or take a political stand or simply create a hit record. Some, like the Kingston Trio, took a several tunes, performed them with spirit, made a several hits and vanished again; some, like Dylan, recreated themselves as inheritors of a nice tradition and went on to forge something new. The Weavers came from the generation before-- they had grown up in families of laborers or had labored themselves-- Hays, for example, had been a migrant farmhand and a roving preacher, among another occupations. They had gone where the problem was, to strikes, to mines, to migrant camps-- they had sung the songs back to the folks who made them, the workers and the farmers.The Weavers were born of an old-time bedrock unionizing leftism that McCarthy and the HUAC nearly erased from the American past. At one point, at a neighborhood picnic, they sing one of the old-time union songs-- a pragmatic warning to the worker: "Keep your eye upon the dollar..." When they finish Hays wryly adds: "We will actually pass out among you...." The opening statement to a passing-of-the-hat that an organizer might have done at a laborers' meeting back in the days when unions had to be fought for, and paid for, vs true violence and large moneyed interests. It's a joke, of course, and the audience laughs, but you know Hays has told that before, under various circumstances.I was born in 1970, an early Gen-X-er. My parents were older than those of most of my age-- kids of the Depression, old-school liberals. The Weavers' albums were prominent among the collection of records they had acquired over the years, and I listened to them over and over, thrilling as Seeger's voice hit the high notes on "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," and laughing at "The Talking Blues."The Weavers are part of a history that has gone now-- erased by television, computers, George Lucas, the Fresh Economy, etc. America is simultaneously the country with the least appreciation of its own history and the most reason to celebrate it. Seek out this film, whatever your politics or age, and learn from it. It does not itself discover much in the method of history, but the Weavers themselves embody it: a solid, funny, down-to-earth, committed collective voice from the past. Not to be missed, and not to be forgotten.


If you ever stood up and tried to create your voice stand for something, this film will bring you back to a time when you cared. It's anything but preachy. It's funny and sad and a real celebration of the power American artists once wielded. When the group bursts into Wimoweh your heart will go up into your larynx. This is truly a film that can change peoples lives.


Our fathers bled at Valley Forge, the snow was red with blood. Their faith was worn at Valley Forge; their faith was brotherhood. Wasn't that a time, wasn't that a time? A time to test the soul of men. Wasn't that a poor time? Brave boys who fought at Gettysburg actually lie in soldiers' graves. But there they stemmed the rebel tide, and there their faith was saved. Wasn't that a time, wasn't that a time? A time to test the soul of men. Wasn't that a poor time? The fights are long, the peace is frail, the madmen come again. There is no freedom in a land where fear and hate prevail. Isn't this a time, isn't this a time? A time to test the soul of men. Isn't this a poor time? "Songs are dangerous," tells the old, sick man, Lee Hays. "The Weavers sang about freedom, civil rights..." and about justice, fairness and brotherhood. Tells Ronnie Gilbert, one of the Weavers, "We felt that if we sang loud enough and powerful enough and hopefully enough, somehow it would create a difference." Hays, Pete Seeger, Gilbert and Fred Hellerman came together in 1948 and formed the Weavers. They didn't create much of an impression until a year soon when they performed at the Village Vanguard. Thanks to Gordon Jenkins who heard them and insisted that Decca Records sign them, they hit the large time with "Goodnight, Irene" and "Tzena, tzena, tzena." As one person said, they suddenly moved authentic folk songs into mainstream America. All four were committed progressives. Hays and Seeger were long-time union supporters going back to the poor times of the Thirties. In the late Forties, when anti-Communist demagogues began to scare the daylights out of most Americans with accusations, Congressional investigations and fear, it only took a couple of years to finish off the Weavers, or so it seemed. They disbanded finally in 1952 after two years of blacklisting. Decca cancelled their contract, radio stations wouldn't enjoy their records, and it was tough even to receive gigs at state fairs. Three years soon they came together for a one-time concert at Carnegie Hall and almost single-handedly set the fresh wave of protest folk-singing on its course. Although Seeger left in 1958 to return to a solo career (and remained banned from network tv for years), the Weavers continued on until 1963. It's actually 1980 and Hays looks in the camera and says, "I'm Lee Hays...more or less." He's not well and is confined to a wheelchair. Both legs had to be amputated because of diabetes. He decides to invite Seeger, Gilbert and Hellerman, and their spouses and kids, to come visit him, to have a picnic and sit around and sing together one more time. (And, yes, A Mighty Wind used this in a gentle and affectionate way.) A camera team will record everything. His house is small, but it has a huge backyard, a mulch pile which Hays attends to and plenty of room for outdoor tables and folding chairs. The four of them with friends, relatives and Hays' neighbors receive together and eat ham and cake. Then Hays, Hellerman, Gilbert and Seeger sit down to reminisce and sing. Everyone gathers around them. At one mission Seeger suggests doing what they're doing again...but at Carnegie Hall. And actually we watch them rehearse. We see all that gray hair, the receding hairlines, the additional poundage, as well as their professionalism. They are as committed to social justice as they were when they started out. They still sing just as passionately and joyously as ever. Finally the Carnegie Hall night arrives. The two concerts were sell-outs as later as they were announced. The Hall is packed. Everyone is smiling. Then onto the scene walk Seeger and Hellerman. Gilbert pushes Hays in his wheelchair. The crowd roars, then settles down, and the four begin singing. If you don't have an emotional moment at this point, then you gotta have missed the last 60 years of this nation's history. "If I Had a Hammer," written by Hays and Seeger in 1949, is just as new as the first time they sang it, and with just as much meaning. If "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" doesn't choke you up, even sung 30 years soon still by Gilbert and Seeger, you've never loved anyone. And the songs crying out for justice are still valid. "We know this concert will be our last," tells Hays, "but the melody will go on because it everytime has." Hays died the next year. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated and his neighbors gathered in his backyard where they mixed his ashes into his mulch pile. Wasn't That a Time is a tremendously moving and joyous documentary, especially if you grew up loving how the Weavers sang and what they sang about.



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