“Karen Dalton: In My Own Time” Review

-Allison McCulloch

85 mins. | USA | 2021

“I have become a cynic, spoiled in the wasteland.”

Propelled by their love of Karen Dalton’s music, directors Robert Yapkowitz and Richard Peete decided to make a documentary on her life despite there not being a ton of footage available. Still they were able to unearth photographs and concert footage despite Karen Dalton’s archive of journals, poems, lyrics, and tapes all destroyed in a fire.

Burdened by societal constructs, she was married twice and had two children by the time she was seventeen. Karen Dalton chased her “own destiny” and moved to New York at the age of 20. She pretended to reconcile with her second husband in order to “kidnap” (by today’s standards) her daughter Abbe and take her to New York with her. Dalton was compared to Billie Holiday; predating Janis Joplin, she mostly sounds like a folk version of the rocker to me. She appeared on the folk scene with the likes of Bob Dylan and often sang Tim Hardin’s songs and collaborated on drawings with him. She even met John Phillips before the creation of The Mamas & the Papas, but they both liked to have control and his sound was much too poppy for her intimate approach. Not tempted with fame and not wanting to cater to the audience yet yearning to make a living as a musician, it’s a tragedy that Karen Dalton was glossed over by the music industry. After recording only two albums, she caved into her drug addiction and died of AIDS in 1993.

Singer Angel Olsen reads Dalton’s diary entries and Dalton is championed onscreen by Nick Cave, Vanessa Carlton, and Deer Tick. Executed produced by Wim Wenders, the story is guaranteed to be intriguing to the casual documentary filmgoer. It’s highly recommended for anyone searching for a story of an underrated and turbulent artist. Her raw and earthy music speaks for itself; it’s a crime that she was forgotten for so long, but the enthusiastic filmmakers really bring Karen Dalton’s story to life.

Vegan alert:
-Riding horses and putting horse in a trailer
-Unsuccessfully tried to rescue a dog

In theaters October 1, 2021 (Film Forum, NYC) and on digital November 16, 2021

Follow Allison McCulloch on Twitter.

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