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