FILM: “Vagabondo!”


At this point in time, Vince Martin is an obscure folksinger known only to obsessive fans of the deeper reaches of the Greenwich Village 60’s folk scene. Chances are, unless you have a shelf full of Fred Neil and Tim Hardin albums, you probably haven’t heard of Martin, much less heard his magical music.

But in his time, Martin was a star, and his 1956 version of “Cindy,” backed by the Tarriers, was one of the defining hits of the early folk boom. Martin began his career as a club singer, draping saloon songs in his fabulous tenor, but eventually he teamed up with Neil to create the powerful duo behind 1964’s “Tear Down The Walls” — a seminal release that marked the young John Sebastian’s debut as a recording artist, blowing confident harp behind them.

Not long after, Martin and Neil went solo, and Sebastian’s brother, Mark, found himself transformed from Martin’s trepidatious opening act to his accompanying guitarist.

Fast forward a few decades, and Sebastian found his old friend via Facebook, and, with the help of filmmaker Todd Kwait – the man behind the jug band documentary “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost” – made a movie about Martin, called “Vagabondo!”

“Vagabondo!” was given a sneak preview world premiere in Woodstock Sunday afternoon, at the Kleinert/James Art Center of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, with Martin, Kwait and both Sebastians in attendance.

The bulk of the film features Martin and Mark Sebastian strolling around old haunts – Washington Square Park, Bleecker & McDougal, Coney Island and the like. The conversation is at once magical, mundane and historic, with both parties admitting to a certain struggle with nostalgia.

Martin is painted as a man sensitive enough to write closet classics like “Snow Shadows,” and gruff enough to understand the violent impulses in his Brooklyn-bred Italian soul.

Kwait carefully edits in classic live footage of Martin in his prime, and in one telling scene, the director juxtaposes his singing from the early 70s – onstage – and the late 2000s – in his apartment. It creates a touching moment filled with the ups and downs of Martin’s 72 years.

Like many documentaries, “Vagabondo!” will mean more to viewers already familiar with the subject, but also like “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost,” it is a well-composed piece that will tell a riveting story even to newcomers.

Following the screening, Kwait and Martin took questions, with the singer offering a frank appraisal of the pitfalls of fame, before chatting with fans and friends in the Center and on the street.

Review by Bokonon

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