Friday, November 29, 2019

Leslie Ann Coles' enchanting 2016 music documentary, MELODY MAKERS, finally arrives

Forget Rolling Stone. The music magazine you need to know all about -- and will find out plenty via this new film -- is the no-longer-published British weekly, Melody Maker, which ruled the music roost for most of its 75-year run, ceding its deserved dominance to rivals only when its owners insisted on major coverage going to popular boy bands and that ilk, rather than to the folk who actually made the music worth keeping.

As written and directed by Leslie Ann Coles (shown at left) and expertly edited by Mark Sanders, the film spends just the right amount of time with the many talking heads rounded up to speak about this marvelous magazine and its storied (even if many times accidental) scoops and articles that could and usually did goose the careers of the musical artists involved -- sometimes into overdrive.

We hear from former editors and journalists/ critics and especially from one particular photographer, Barrie Wentzell, whose resonant work (shown below) is also redolent and utterly defining of a time long gone -- and much missed by many of us.

The thing -- other than the subject itself -- that makes this documentary so special is how very speedy is the dialog, together with the ideas tossed around here. Similar to the fast pace of another recent doc, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, the movie assumes its audience to be intelligent and quick-thinking and so neither drags along nor grows repetitive (à la Ken Burns), as it drops its many bons mots and makes us think, assess and often laugh along the way.

What all these interviewees have to say, and what we learn about the bands, individual musicians, music politics and just-plain gossip of the day should delight and surprise anyone who lived through and paid attention to the music scene of this day (particularly the 1950s, 60s and 70s).

For instance: As there were few to no teachers of guitar in Britain at the time, rock musicians had to learn the instrument, along with what it could be made to do, all by themselves. Once something new was achieved, it was often shared, as the musicians moved on to yet another new chord or challenge. (You'll also discover what the Mafia had to do with why a magazine as popular as Melody Maker never saw U.S. distribution.)

As all this occurred well before the internet appeared, the relationship between the magazine and the musicians it covered was more than a little "chummy," which had both positive and negative effects. While it's hard not to recall this time as a kind of golden age, the tone of the doc is never self-congratulatory. These folk look back on things with an eye both distanced and melancholic. Still, when at the end of the movie, the workers tell us that these were the best jobs they ever had, you'll be hard put to disagree. Once you've seen this film, you'll understand why, had you been young in Great Britain back in the day, Melody Maker would have been your must-read.

From Cleopatra Entertainment and running just 78 minutes, Melody Makers opens in Los Angeles today, Friday, November 29, for a week-long run at the Arena CineLounge Sunset, 6464 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood CA, followed by the Apple iBook debut on the same day -- with a DVD Release scheduled for December 17. 

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