Saturday, 27 April 2013

Sundance London 2013: The History of The Eagles Part One Review

Director: Alison Ellwood

Synopsis: The first in a two-part documentary about The Eagles; Part One looking at their humble beginnings up until 1980’s breakup.

With the most popular artists (in whatever sphere) there always a flurry of books, films or memorabilia surrounding them. More lately, it is the documentary chronicle of such artists that seems to be the new popular medium. Last year's Crossfire Hurricane about The Rolling Stones, the Oscar-winning Searching For Sugarman and the upcoming Beware of Mr. Baker are just some of the more recent examples. With the former, director Brett Morgen tried to fit 50 years of rich history into a 111 minute - a bold and, ultimately terrible, approach. Further to the Stones doc, there was little left to say after Gimme Shelter, The Stones in Exile and Sympathy for the Devil (to name but a few out of a heap on the "Greatest Rock 'n Roll" band’s docs). So, when you see Alison Ellwood's The History of The Eagles Part One you take into account the how exclusive the project is, and the triumph in splitting their story into two halves. The 120-minute Part One is a progressive, in-depth and investigative analysis of The Eagles with footage never seen before and a bunch of very honest interviews from each member (talking heads rather than voice over - another low-point of Morgen's Crossfire Hurricane).

Beginning with footage from a 1977 concert, the documentary immediately proves to you how talented the band is (if you weren’t already aware). In the cinema environment, with complete surround sound, it magnifies their brilliance and their sublime melodies. Any music documentary should make a point of illuminating the musical talent (even the new Snoop Lion film, Reincarnated, whilst having a poor reception, was often commended for highlighting the music well). The Eagles are not in any need of proof but it brings a smile to your face, and a whole audience to tap their feet, to hear, see and feel the band at play – reiterating the illustriousness of their composition.

Another key feature of a music documentary is its impetus or ability to dissect the album tracks. The Classic Albums series are the best at these (as well as Spike Lee’s Bad: 25 and Under African Skies about Paul Simon’s “Graceland”). The History of The Eagles Part One contains some similar analysis in part. More than anything it is the lyrics and opening riffs or licks that are explained – also enlightening you on the mood of the moment and showing the evolution of the song. Three of the most enjoyable tales of track origins are (unsurprisingly) “Hotel California”, “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Victim of Love”. The latter is part of the story’s major conflict – the beginning of the end with Don Felder.

For those already in the know about the history there should hopefully be something new to learn in the staggeringly honest interviews. Despite the tension between Felder and the remaining members, he zealously gives his takes on events, working well for evening out opinions and creating an overall respect for each member’s openness and understanding. Those new to the band, or at least the history, will be terrifically entertained and educated.

Not only does it explore the band’s triumphs and troubles in work, it also gives an assured, if slight, overview of the various epochs. In those years was the music that inspired them (The Beatles, Elvis Presley), the drink and drugs, and the celebrity. One hilarious anecdote from Joe Walsh (whose presence in the film is always amusing) about him and John Belushi trying to get into a fancy restaurant will long live in your memory afterwards.

For those not at all interested in The Eagles the doc is a tough sell; you can find other gems about music and contemporary American history but it’s obviously Eagles-heavy. For the band’s fans, and music aficionados in general, this is A-grade material.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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