Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Song Remains the Same (1976)



          With a few notable exceptions, the best rock-music movies are made from an outside-looking-in perspective—whether it’s Richard Lester capturing the buoyancy of the Beatles or Michael Wadleigh documenting the wonderment of Woodstock, the presence of an objective observer seems helpful for communicating what makes a rock experience interesting. Conversely, bad things seem to happen whenever rock musicians take control of cameras (again, with a few notable exceptins). From drug-addled stupidity to obnoxious ego-tripping, rock musicians have a bad habit of turning movies about themselves into indulgences that only hardcore fans can enjoy. The Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains the Same is very much an example of the latter circumstance. The picture fits every adjective that’s ever been used to slag the band—bombastic, infantile, overwrought, self-important—and it conveys very little of the group’s legendary sonic attack. Furthermore, The Song Remains the Same is padded with stupid fantasy sequences, and it’s sprinkled with offstage bits that reveal more about the band’s thuggish manager, Peter Grant, than about the band itself. Worst of all, the live-concert scenes, which comprise most of the picture’s running time, are dull and unimaginative in terms of cinematic technique.
          Not surprisingly, the picture has a fraught backstory. After initial director Joe Masot shot Led Zep playing at Madison Square Garden in mid-1973, replacement helmer Peter Clifton was hired to fabricate new insert shots by filming the band in mid-1974 on a soundstage tricked up to resemble Madison Square Garden. That’s a lot of trouble for such unimpressive results. In the filmmakers’ defense, some challenges were inherent to the process of filming Led Zep. Singer Robert Plant’s effeminate stage persona clashes oddly with the macho swagger of his singing, so it’s distracting to watch his dainty hand gestures and girly half-shirt while he’s singing about giving “every inch of my love.” Guitarist Jimmy Page underwhelms in a different way. His fretwork feels half-hearted and sloppy, an impression exacerbated by his placid facial expressions; rightly or wrongly, one gets the sense of a working stiff marking time. The band’s set list includes a few uptempo numbers that surmount the drab filming (“Rock and Roll,” “The Song Remains the Same”), but turgid numbers drag on forever. “Dazed and Confused,” for instance, stretches for nearly half an hour, and even “Stairway to Heaven” lacks energy.
          Complementing the actual performance scenes, each member of the group (Grant included, bizarrely) contributes a fantasy sequence meant to offer personal revelation through metaphor. Grant’s bit is first, and he plays a pinstriped mobster slaughtering people with machine guns. Nice guy. The other vignettes are forgettable, with the exception of Plant’s unintentionally hilarious contribution. Plant portrays a brave knight rescuing a maiden from a castle, but with his fey body language and lustrous blonde mane, he seems as formidable as a little boy playing dress-up. Plant’s lyrics have always evinced a weakness for Renaissance Faire-type posturing, but his medieval romp in The Song Remains the Same is a self-aggrandizing embarrassment. Compounding all of these problems, The Song Remains the Same drags on for 137 lugubrious minutes, so whenever you think the damn thing is over, it’s not.

The Song Remains the Same: FUNKY

5 comments:

Will Errickson said...

Gimme gimme ROCK'N'ROLL HIGH SCHOOL any day.

Tommy Ross said...

Ha ha, yeah well Song Remains The Same is definitely one of those rock films that you have to be a fan of the band to really get into. I was on mushrooms when I first saw this in '77 so we'll just leave it at that. The best rock and roll film of all time whether you like the band or not is the Rolling Stones GIMME SHELTER which if I'm not mistaken is 1970 release so Peter will have to review that sometime..

Raider Duck said...

A little background: The concert sequences were shot during the last three shows of a year-long tour; the entire band is on auto-pilot and it shows. Fortunately, Zeppelin on auto-pilot is still better than 95% of the bands out there.

And while Peter Grant may come off as "thuggish," it was that thuggishness that ensured the four members of Zeppelin, unlike almost every other band of that period, were actually paid what they were owed by concert promoters and merchandise sellers. Look what he's doing in the big backstage scene: some sleazy venue operator has been selling knockoff shirts and pocketing the money; Grant is telling him in no uncertain terms to knock that crap off.

I do agree that the fantasy sequences are entirely forgettable, and a much better document of Zeppelin's awesome sonic attack can be found on the 2003 DVD set.

D.M. Anderson said...

This film is only entertaining when you are chemically altered...

http://freekittensmovieguide.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-song-remains-same-brief-history-of.html

Unknown said...

Truly one of the biggest inspirations for THIS IS SPINAL TAP. If this is "great if you're stoned", then why do you think they call it "dope"?