SCHULTZE GETS THE BLUES
Former Austin Film Society Programming Apprentice and Eternal AFS Assistant
THE ORIGINS OF ZYDECO
word "zydeco" is a lazy pronunciation, some call a corruption, of the
French term les haricots [“lay zahrikó”] which translates in English to
“snap,” or “green,” “beans.” The origins of zydeco music can date as
far back as the late 1800's when French-speaking creolès in Southern
Louisiana would socialize and play music at night in local house
dances. The music began its evolution from this early Creole folk music.
its early composition zydeco was a mix of cajun music, R & B,
blues, jazz, and gospel. The point where zydeco truly found its
inspiration from traditional Creolè music happened when waltzes and
shuffles were integrated because of the music's movement into the
community of the Catholic church. After this it also fused two-step,
blues, and rock ‘n' roll when it later infiltrated rural dance halls
and nightclubs in Southern Louisiana.
The main components that
define a true zydeco piece were a fast tempo, usually administered by
the button or piano accordion as well as the inclusion of a rub-board,
also known as a frottoir. It wasn't until the 1920's that the first
recordings of Creolè music were made. At this time it was often called
French music or le musique Creolè known as "la-la."
ZYDECO'S EVOLUTION WEST
of the swamps of southern Louisiana French-speaking African-Americans
and Creolès left the poor and prejudiced region for something better.
Their goal was to gain fruitful economical opportunities in Texas. Some
even went as far as California to gain social acceptance as well. It
was during this migration that modern zydeco found its father and king.
Chenier was working on an oilrig in Port Arthur, Texas with his brother
Cleveland when the two invented the now standard versions of the two
essential zydeco instruments. Clifton played the piano key accordion,
while Cleveland played the modern zydeco rub board, which was developed
by Clifton. Throughout the 1940's-1960's the two recorded and played in
southeast Texas, and in doing so brought zydeco somewhat into the
American mainstream. Chenier was signed by Specialty Records and his
first hit was an homage to the music he loved so much. The song was
called "Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales" ("The Snap Beans Ain't Salty") and
caused the term zydeco to be attached to Chenier's musical style.
zydeco has many hotbeds in different regions of the U.S. including
Oregon and California and even has some attention in Europe and
SCHULTZE AND ZYDECO
And it's in Europe, more
specifically in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, where we find the
title character of Michael Schorr's heartwarming and heartbreaking
Schultze Gets the Blues. This region of Germany has always been
synonymous with the harvesting of salt. Schultze knows this. He has
lived a life mining salt. One day he and his fellow miners are laid
off. All Schultze has left is his accordion, which usually plays the
traditional polka waltzes of Schultze's home country. It's in
Schultze's small world of stagnant tradition that his radio
unexpectedly blasts the sounds of zydeco. Schorr beautifully summarizes
that one-of-a-kind cajun sound as "music even Schultze can't sit down
to." Surprised by the new accordion sound he hears Schultze finds a
whole new view on life. Though some in his hometown don't share
Schultze's enthusiasm for zydeco, his newfound passion won't be
discouraged. Like the free spirit of the Creolè music Schultze doesn't
get discouraged by some of his fellow townspeople's irate confusion,
but instead tries to become immersed in the bayou culture, which seems
to have set his heart free.
Schorr shot his minimalist-feeling
film on location in Saxony-Anhalt as well as Louisiana and Texas as
Schultze's spiritual journey becomes more literal. When Schultze is
chosen by his friends to travel to Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas he
reluctantly accepts. But instead of staying at the world-renowned
festival he decides to travel the Gulf and makes his way to Louisiana.
started his career making documentaries that ranged from fishing to
wine harvesting. Schultze is his first feature and narrative film. In
fact on top of filming on location Schultze's crew actually shot scenes
at Wurstfest, so his style feels like that of a documentary filmmaker.
It's loose and observational. He is of the persuasion that the more he
prepares the more he can improvise. His takes are long and meditative.
Though his film won acclaim at over ten international film festivals a
main complaint was the film's slow, methodical pace. The film takes its
time, seeps in the beauty of its locations and its endearing subject of
Schultze. I won't delve too deeply into the sights Schultze and
Schorr's camera observe, but they are quietly breathtaking and
undeniably authentic, much like the character himself.
Texas Zydeco by Roger Wood
"Schultze, Supertankers, and Me" by Michael Shorr (FLM Sep.2005)
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