The seminal story of how modern classical music turned Louisville, Ken., into a mid-20th century cultural phenomenon feels far less thrilling than it should, at least in the hands of co-directors Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler. That's because their documentary, "Music Makes a City," despite its gorgeous soundtrack, historical sweep and wealth of archival material, is weakened by sluggish pacing and an overly detailed, increasingly narrow focus.
Singer-songwriter-actor Will Oldham's lecture-like narration tells how the 1937 formation of the Louisville Orchestra helped rejuvenate the city after the Great Depression and, later, a devastating flood. By the early 1950s, led by conductor Robert Whitney and championed by Louisville's progressive, arts-loving mayor, Charles Farnsley, the ensemble became a spiritual home for major composers from around the world — Lukas Foss, Chou Wen-chung and Elliott Carter, among many others — whose work was famously commissioned, premiered and recorded by the orchestra. This visionary approach also attracted such luminaries as dancer Martha Graham and conductor Dmitri Shostakovich.