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By Mark Bell | February 17, 2012

Elzbieta Szoka’s documentary Beautiful People tells the story of a Tuesday tradition at Dempsey’s Pub in New York City: the Irish seisiún. Musicians come from all around to sit in and play their favorite Irish traditional music and, regardless of talent or skill-level, all are welcome and invited to participate. It’s a breeding ground of great music and musical camaraderie as the novice sits with the veteran, both teaching and enjoying each other. It looks, and sounds, like the best pub party you could ever experience.

Before I get too far into the review, I want to talk about the opening sequence of the film which I strongly believe could be an amazing short film unto itself. While the idea is not unique, juxtaposing the sounds and images of New York City with the tuning up and preparation of the Irish seisiún players, it is done flawlessly. The visual edit is top-notch and the audio mix is exquisite. Regardless of what was to come, I couldn’t help but marvel at how well the opening was executed.

Which brings us to the rest of the documentary, which is a mix of interviews with various seisiún regulars, such as John Nevin, Mary Ford, Atsushi Amemiya and Stanley Rygor, and snippets of seisiún performances. Now, while the interviews are interesting enough (it is such a wide swath of people coming together to play Irish trad) and make up a large amount of the running time, the film, for me, lives on the beautiful merits of the performances. To that extent, I would’ve been happy with a straight-up concert film; something that immersed you into the experience in a way that made-up somewhat for your own inability to attend personally. Or maybe even a more complete music performance friendly mix, a la The Last Waltz-style.

Again, not to say that the interviews aren’t interesting, but I just wasn’t connecting as well with them as I was the performances. The interviews, I think, are more valuable to those that already know these people, or perhaps play alongside them in the seisiún, than for a complete outsider such as myself because, while you get to know them a bit, I feel that brief information on so many subjects is better as an expansion on previous knowledge of them and their personality than as a standalone gateway. To that end, as contradictory as it may sound to my above sentiments, perhaps I just needed more time with fewer musicians.

In the end, though, this is a very competent documentary film that hits all the notes it sets out to hit. Whether that falls in line with what you or I would prefer more doesn’t take away that it succeeds in its aims, and does so in a very polished and professional way. Luckily for those out there like me, who really connected with the music above all, the DVD of the film being sold from the film’s website also contains a combo CD full of nothing but the music, making it worth the purchase even if you only watch the film once.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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