A powerful story, a magnificent subject, a dramatic soundtrack; From A Deeper Well, an hour-long BBC documentary tracing the career of Emmylou Harris, should be compulsive, enthralling, evocative. Instead, it's adequate at best, a series of intriguing vignettes and fascinating footage that somehow fails to gel into the cohesive whole that separates a great TV show from a merely watchable one.
Part of its problem, of course, is the sheer breadth of its subject. Even allowing for a decade of largely forgettable albums, and another 10 years of comparative inactivity, still Harris's life and career overwhelm casual consideration, but that is all that From A Deeper Well offers.
There are few surprises. The soundtrack hugs exactly the songs you'd expect it to, and overlooks the same LPs as the average rock encyclopedia - a failing that's unforgivable considering the access that the filmmakers had to Harris's own inner circle. She contributes heavily to the documentary, alongside Linda Ronstadt, Rodney Crowell, Glen D Hardin, Alvin Lee and many others. But they say little that has not been reported elsewhere, and while it was nice to hear The Ballad Of Sally Rose given more than a cursory mention, was it really her only album of the 1980s to merit discussion?
With archive film
and recordings dating back to the dawn of Harris's career in the late
1960s, and family photos for the years before then, From A Deeper Well
is certainly worth a viewing. But you climb out of it no wiser than when
you jumped in, and that's a shame. A powerful story, a magnificent subject,
a dramatic soundtrack. But it could have been so much more. -
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