The last few documentaries left on Rialto Channel stellar schedule for 2016 will see a somewhat dodgy year off with a bang, whilst the first for 2017 sets us all up with a whole lotta love.
The first up is THE WRECKING CREW, which makes its New Zealand television debut tonight. This one is a definite winner if you were a fan of 20 Feet from Stardom, 2013 American documentary film directed by Morgan Neville delving into the lives of background singers and their own hopes and dreams. It focuses on the era of popular music of the 1960’s in America, which was dominated by young bands like the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, Jan and Dean and the Monkees. Rather than zeroing in on the stars of the era, THE WRECKING CREW looks at the work of the super studio players who recorded the tracks for such hits as "California Dreamin'", "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", "Be My Baby", "The Beat Goes On", and "Good Vibrations”.
Filmmaker Denny Tedesco has emphasized that the amount of work that the crew were involved in was tremendous. As well as the big names, they were also involved in groups that Tedesco likes to call the “Milli Vanillis of the day”. A producer would get the guys in and lay down some instrumental tracks. If it became a hit, they would record an album and put a group together to go on the road. This happened many times with groups like the Marketts, Routers, and T-Bones. The next day they would do the same thing and call it another name. Same musicians, but different group name. Fascinating stuff, and oddly soothing to know that manufactured pop acts were just as rife back in the good old days!
Denny also has a deeply personal connection to the film and the era, as he is the son of legendary late Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco. His father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and Denny wanted to get as much on film or on tape as possible before his father passed. What transpired over the next few years surprised everyone involved and created one hell of a story.
The last documentary airing on Rialto Channel for 2016 is a humdinger - MR. DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN.
The legendary Brown changed the face of American music forever, but by god he was a controversial figure off stage. Charting his journey from rhythm and blues to funk, MR. DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN was made with the cooperation of the Brown estate, which opened its archives for the first time. And it shows. The documentary features rare and never-before-seen footage, interviews and photographs, chronicling the musical ascension of the "hardest working man in show business," from his first hit, "Please, Please, Please," in 1956, to his iconic performances at the Apollo Theatre, the T.A.M.I. Show, the Paris Olympia and more.
But how do you capture the full story of hardest working man in show business in just two hours? Well you don’t. Filmmaker Alex Gibney makes the decision to rush the biographical aspects of Brown’s early years, providing almost all the family history of the man over still photos with on-screen text. The director is clearly more interested in Brown’s on-stage personality than what he did off stage, which is where his most controversial tales can be told. It glosses over his status as an acknowledged domestic abuser (no surprise there), which is kind of the story that I want to see finally explored on screen – in all its unpleasantness. It does cover the importance of Brown to the civil rights movement, however. From the show he did to stop the riots sure to ensue on the night that Martin Luther King was shot to the international reaction to the legendary “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Brown was more than a musician, he was a cultural and political figure. Just not the best guy to be in a relationship with.
Last up in my rave but first up for 2017 is HEART OF A DOG, which chronicles multimedia artist Laurie Anderson relationship with her beloved terrier, the super cute Lolabelle. “From the gripping, hypnotic and warm opening moments, Anderson’s Heart of a Dog becomes a deft exercise in balances of various styles and forms of artistic philosophies,” said the Toronto Film Scene, to which I say yes – and more. Dedicated to Anderson's late husband Lou Reed (who presence can be felt throughout), it started life as a lament of sorts to her clearly much loved but now deceased terrier, and it’s an eccentric, erudite essay-film that is pure Anderson. Yes it moves all over the place - from an eerie explanation of the Buddhist view of death to some astonishing childhood anecdotes and kooky dreams – but it does so in an arty, beautiful way. It’s the kind of paean that we’d all like to create for our beloved pets, and a magical, meaningful watch.
Rialto Documentary, every Thursday on Rialto Channel SKY TV