PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Finding Big Pink

The PopCulteer
September 28, 2018

2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Music From Big Pink, the debut album by The Band, and quite possibly the album that kicked off a musical genre that eventually became known as “Americana.”

“Big Pink” was the house where The Band recorded the album after coming off of a tour as The Hawks, backing Bob Dylan. The house was shared by band members Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson in West Saugerties, New York. Bob Dylan’s legendary Basement Tapes were recorded at Big Pink before The Band decided to strike out on their own, but remained unreleased (officially) until 1976.

The house itself has become a sort of venerated location, and Charleston filmmaker Lisa Tignor decided to create a film about people making a pilgrimage to this legendary domicile. Her journey in making the film is quite the story in its own right. Lisa sent me a detailed press release about her film, and the details for this piece were sourced from that. This is something that more people need to know about.

Finding Big Pink was three years in the making, and had many obstacles to overcome, but now the film is finally complete and making the rounds on the festival circuit. Check out the trailer…

The film is simultaneously a road trip, a tribute to a great band, one fan’s interpretation of a song, an example of subversive filmmaking, and a couple’s vacation video. The film targets a niche audience: fans of The Band and people who love road trips.

The film is currently making its festival run with five official selections and one award so far. “This is just the beginning,” says Director, Lisa Tignor (left). This is a film that almost didn’t make it to the public.

“It was shot in 2015, and I thought the editing was complete in 2016, but it was clear that something was missing.” Tignor decided to shoot the equivalent of a music video and splice it between sections of the documentary. This created a new obstacle. After hiring lawyers, she found she could not get the rights to the song “The Weight.” Tignor stewed over this, thinking she would have to dump the entire project.

Then she had an idea. “While the travel portions are a bit shakey, the cinematography on the music video sections couldn’t be more beautiful! I couldn’t let this film not be seen!” She added time cues to the film, and explained in the narrative about the struggle to get the music rights.

The Band fans watching Finding Big Pink at home could cue up “The Weight” to its appropriate point and see the film as it was intended. No laws are broken, no rights infringed and no copyright lawyers were harmed during the making of this movie.

Anyone watching it at a festival will be treated to royalty free music.

Tignor believes this decision may have contributed to the popularity of the film. “I’m getting emails from reviewers, even from festivals where my film was not accepted, telling me what a brilliant idea this was. I guess it’s a familiar struggle for a lot of filmmakers, and they are relating to that.”

Indeed, ten years ago, animator Nina Paley, faced with ridiculous rights fees for music in her feature film, Sita Sings The Blues, chose to release her film under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, which meant that she could show it and distribute it, as long as she didn’t make any money directly from selling the music. You can see that film right here in PopCult at this link.

Finding Big Pink stars relative unknowns from West Virginia, but David Tackett might be recognized from his live theatre work. Zach Labin, of Appalachian Video Productions, wieded the camera for the beautiful cinematography.

As soon as Finding Big Pink wraps up its festival commitments we’ll tell you where you might be able to see or buy a copy. In the meantime, it sure would be cool if this project could get a local showing.

That’s this week’s PopCulteer. By the time you read this I should be back in Charleston after hitting Chicago for part two of my anniversary trip with Mel Larch. I’ll tell you all about that next week.