THE WRECKING CREW (doc, 2008/2015)

March 15, 2015

wrecking crew Greetings again from the darkness. The music business has always been a bit of a mystery – not just to the average record buyer, but even to those within the industry. History is filled with singers, band members, and songwriters missing out on the pot of gold due to slick legal maneuvering from some less-than-upstanding agent, producer or label. This documentary details the prolific recordings from a core group of studio musicians responsible for the sounds heard as rock and roll music exploded on the scene … their stellar performances marketed to the public as the work of popular bands.

Lest you think this is limited to an obscure genre or style of music, the two dozen (or so) musicians known as The Wrecking Crew were responsible for the album music for such groups and performers as The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, The Righteous Brothers, Elvis Presley, The Mamas and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, Sam Cooke, The Byrds, and The Monkees. And we can’t leave out Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” which dominated the charts for years. Director Denny Tedesco set out to make a documentary short about his father, guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Tedesco, but quickly realized the story was much bigger than just his dad.

In addition to the very talented (and funny) Tedesco, we get interviews with such talented musicians as Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Don Randi, Al Casey, Plas Johnson (The Pink Panther sax soloist), Carol Kaye, and Bill Pittman. There is also insight from producers Lou Adler and Snuff Garrett, American Bandstand’s Dick Clark, songwriter Jimmy Webb, plus icon Herb Alpert. Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork explain the business rationale in having the professionals take care of the recordings, while Roger McGuinn spills the beans that other members of The Byrds (including David Crosby) were pretty miffed at the process.

The personal importance of telling this story is quite obvious in the work of the director, and is especially clear in the segments featuring his father. In addition to the popular music he was involved with, the senior Tedesco’s work is heard in such well-known TV themes as “Bonanza“, “MASH“, “Batman“, and “The Twilight Zone” … plus many movie scores. Archival footage is available for Q&A roundtables and some of the seminar work Tedesco did in the later stages of his career (he passed away in 1997). There is also footage of Phil Spector working in the studio, and some audio from Frank Sinatra as he works on recording, and early Brian Wilson creating the magic of Pet Sounds with the Wrecking Crew.

Glen Campbell and Leon Russell are the two big breakout performers from this group of studio musicians and both speak so highly of these unpublicized artists. Their interviews, and that of Dick Clark, highlight the confusion of timeline in the making of the film. It began making festival rounds in 2008 before running the age old issue of “musical rights” brought distribution to a screeching halt. So now, in 2015, the film is finally getting some theatre time, and with it comes the recognition and appreciation that is long overdue for the members of this very secret club … few of whom seem to hold any type of grudge. They were just happy to make a living doing what they love.

This film instantly becomes one of four documentaries highly recommended for those who want to better understand the music biz. Group it with Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002), Muscle Shoals (2013), and Oscar winner Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) to form an 8 hour education and history of popular music over the past three generations.

**NOTE: Kent Hartman released a book entitled “The Wrecking Crew” that provides additional detail; however, it is not affiliated with Denny Tedesco’s film.

watch the trailer:

 


THE LAST IMPRESARIO (2014, doc)

December 4, 2014

last impresario Greetings again from the darkness. In the biographical documentary genre, a stream of talking heads is ordinarily my least favorite approach. However, director Gracie Otto (sister of actress Miranda) understands that when your subject is “the most famous person you’ve never heard of”, it’s pretty impressive and effective to line-up 50+ celebrities to offer their thoughts and memories of the man.

Michael White. Maybe you know the name, maybe you don’t. Even before the opening credits, we get rapid-fire celebrity descriptions of Mr. White and his impact on theatre, film and the creative society of the 1960’s and 70’s. Director Otto explains how she first noticed Mr. White at the Cannes Film Festival as a slew of celebrities paid their respects. She then began her research into this most interesting man whose 50 year career has left quite a personal stamp.

We hear descriptions such as “he likes people” and he “likes being where the action is”. This about a man who grew up in Scotland, was educated in Switzerland, and worked in New York … before making a real mark in London’s West End Theatre district. His infamous dinner parties allowed paths to cross between the brightest in stage, art, film, and publishing. He had an eye for talent outside the mainstream – experimental and avant garde appealed to him … those who pushed the envelope (or ignored it completely). Because of this, his sphere of influence included such diverse personalities as Pina Bausch, Yoko Ono, John Waters and Kate Moss. His stage production of “Oh! Calcutta” was a major cultural breakthrough and led to others such as the original “Rocky Horror Show”, and the iconic comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

When Ms. Otto asks him why he has so many friends, Mr. White replies that “you never lose a friend”. This comes after we have learned that powerful music producer Lou Adler took advantage of him during negotiations for the Rocky Horror rights in the U.S. White does acknowledge that he has been “cheated” a few times over the years. Another apt description is that he is “drawn to excitement more than money”. It’s then that we learn of his incredible archive of 30,000 photographs – from a time before the paparazzi ruled the world.

The odd font style makes some of the onscreen graphics difficult to read, but the music reminds us that Michael White’s legacy from the swinging 60’s as a playboy and gambling Producer is quite secure Today Mr. White lives a modest life, and periodically has to auction his collections to raise funds. He has had a couple of strokes, walks with the aid of two canes, and is sometimes difficult to understand. He still has regular dinners with friends … after all, with this attitude in life, one never loses a friend.

watch the trailer: